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Friday, October 30, 2009

100th Post and a Cheesecake Factory Reinvention

This is my 100th post!!! I thought I would get here much sooner, but I didn't realize how much my cooking and baking would slow down as I finished up my degree! I wanted to post something special for this occasion, and I think this cheesecake is definitely 'grander' (and more time consuming!) than your run of the mill dessert.

The Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory is my ultimate favorite indulgence dessert (see below!):
It's a layer of flourless chocolate cake (that's just the crust people!), topped with chocolate cheesecake, then chocolate mousse, and covered in chocolate ganache, which is sprinkled with cocoa powder - WHAT!!!!!!!! Insanely delicious and I'm sure oh-so horrible health-wise. For this reason, I very rarely have this cheesecake (plus it's like $8 a slice!), but for my birthday, which was last week, I decided I wanted to create my own version at home. I've been planning to do this since my birthday last year in fact. I even eluded to it in a previous post!

To do this, I chose recipes that I thought would work together to recreate this dessert. I knew Dorie's ganache would work wonderfully and the cheesecake layer from the Bailey's Irish Cheesecake would be perfect, but I didn't have any recipes for the flourless chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. The flourless chocolate cake had to be thin since it was the crust. I considered making this chocolate mousse, but from the picture the mousse looks like a dark chocolate one, so I thought I should search for another recipe.

In the end, this cheesecake took a long time to put together (I broke it up into multiple weeknights), and unfortunately I can't say it was any better than Cheesecake Factory! (although how can you beat perfection???) For me, I think I would have been just as happy buying an individual slice for my birthday, and I would have had more free time during my birthday week! I served this cheesecake to some friends at a Game Night, and they really loved it. Everyone had a different layer that was their favorite, so that was fun. Like a true married couple, my favorite was the ganache and the cheesecake, and Bob's was the mousse and the crust! If you're looking for a chocolately dessert to impress your friends, this is a great one. If you're just looking to satisfy a chocolate craving for yourself, get to the nearest Cheesecake Factory and order a slice of the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake!

Ultimate Chocolate Cheesecake

Note: I made the crust and cheesecake on night 1, the mousse and ganache on night 2, and served the cheesecake on nights 3 and 4.

For the crust:
4 1-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used dark chocolate cocoa powder)
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cheesecake:
Original recipe found HERE but I adapted it for the size of this cake:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Bailey's Irish Cream or strong coffee
6 1-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted

For the dark chocolate mousse:
5 1/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
14 ounces cold heavy cream
3 large egg whites
1 ounce sugar

Ganache ("glaze") recipe HERE

Make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 300F.
1. Grease an 8- or 9-inch springform pan and then line with parchment paper (the bottom and sides). Grease the paper as well, then dust with cocoa powder.

2. In the top of a double boiler over lightly simmering water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before adding cheesecake mixture. I used the back of a spoon to sort of smush the cake down to make for a thinner crust.

Make the cheesecake:
Preheat the oven to 325F.
1. In a large mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time while beating. Stir in sour cream, vanilla, and Bailey's or coffee. Stir in the melted chocolate.
2. Pour mixture over crust. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, until the center is raised and set. Let cool to room temperature. Proceed to mousse step or cover cake with aluminum foil and refrigerate until the next day.
Source: Adapted from a recipe by Kerry M.

Make the dark chocolate mousse:
1. Place the chocolate in a large bowl set over low simmering water (or in the top of a double boiler). Stir chocolate until melted. Turn off the heat and let stand (to room temperature).

2. Beat the cream over ice until it forms soft peaks. Set aside and hold at room temperature. With a mixer, whip egg to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until firm. (I prechilled my mixer bowl, which may have been a mistake since I think it made my whipped cream and egg whites too cold, which is might explain why the chocolate solidified in step 3 before completely incorporating)

3. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl. Using a whisk, fold the egg whites into the chocolate. (Note: This is what the recipe from Food Network says, and might be an error. I don't think of "whisk" and "fold" as being compatible, so I used a spatula to fold them together, not a whisk.) When the eggs whites are almost completely incorporated, fold in the whipped cream.

4. Add mousse on top of cheesecake and smooth top. Cover cake with foil and refrigerate until ready to top with ganache.

Make the ganache:
Follow directions outlined HERE (Dorie Greenspan's recipe). Allow to cool briefly - don't let the ganache cool too much or it will start to harden when it hits the cold mousse and be harder to spread. If you'd like the ganache to drip down the sides of the cheesecake, remove the springform pan sides and place cake on a platter lined with wax paper (the wax paper just needs to cover the bottom edges of the cake).
Spread the ganache over mousse layer, allowing to drip down sides if desired. Sprinkle with cocoa powder (optional). Cover cake with aluminum foil and chill.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Harvest Tarts

This is another appetizer I served for Game Night several weeks ago. I've had this recipe marked for 5 years! It's from the Quick Short Chicken Recipes cookbook my aunt gave me when I started graduate school. I always turn to it when I'm flipping through the book, but never felt I had the right occasion to try it out. The original name of this dish is "Chicken Tarts with Pumpkin, Spinach, and Haloumi." This name was way too long, so my friend Kathleen suggested we call them "Harvest Tarts," and the name stuck.

In order to prep these in time for the party, I cut up and roasted the pie pumpkins the night before. I used two pumpkins and had a ton left over, so I've adjusted the recipe for 1. I couldn't find haloumi cheese, but a quick Google search revealed that it's simply a high melting point cheese similar to frying cheese, which Trader Joe's carries. Have you ever seen the cheeses at Trader Joe's??? SOOOO much cheaper than our local grocery store. Even cream cheese and mascarpone are much, much cheaper, which surprised me!

The party guests really liked these tarts. Bob and I thought they were tasty but needed a little something else - maybe a sauce? I'm not quite sure, but if you serve them with a sauce it's probably best on the side, otherwise it might soften the pastry.
Harvest Tarts

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 small chicken breasts, sliced
15 ounces pumpkin, sliced into 1-in x 1-in thin squares
1 1/4 ounces baby spinach leaves
4 1/2 ounces haloumi or frying cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.
1. To roast the pumpkin, put the slices on a baking sheet and brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frying a pan and cook the chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, until cooked through.

3. Unfold puff pastry into a large square. The original recipe says to cut the pastry into 4 equal squares (roughly 5 x 5-inch). I wanted smaller tarts since it was one of many appetizers, so I cut the pastry into 9 equal squares.

4. Top pastry with slices of pumpkin, spinach leaves, chicken, and a slice of the cheese. Brush the entire thing (including the pastry dough) with remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
3. Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry has puffed and slightly browned.

Source: Adapted from the Quick Short Chicken Recipes cookbook

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Kiss Brownies

I found these brownies when looking for recipes with the Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses. This recipe was created by taking Dorie Greenspan's French Chocolate Brownies and swirling melted Pumpkin Spice Kisses through the batter. Let me first say that these brownies are delicious! Although, they are more cakey than I prefer in a brownie (I like them super chewy and fudgy!) After some searching, I discovered that Dorie initially intended these to be a cake, but her French guests thought they were brownies. Knowing that, I definitely think these are more like brownies than a cake. I did have some problems with the baking time (see below), so that might have made them a bit more cakey. I took these to lab meeting, and everyone loved them. The cinnamon added an extra special touch.

Pumpkin Spice Kiss Brownies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
45 Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 300F.
1. Center rack in the oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the pan and place it on a baking sheet.

2. Whisk the flour, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon together. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring until it melts. It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them - it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole.

3. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter mixture, mixing only until it is incorporated- you'll have a thick, creamy batter.

4. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds - the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated. Then finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the pan.

5. Place the unwrapped kisses in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir until smooth, and then drop by spoonfuls into the brownie batter. Using a knife, swirl the batter to create a marbled effect.

6. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean (Note: it took MUCH longer in my oven - I stopped keeping track but my oven is a piece-o-junk so it might have just been that). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

7. Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan using the foil edges as handles and transfer to a cutting board. (At this point I just removed the foil - it was really easy to remove). Cut into 16 squares.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tomato Tart

My birthday was two weeks ago, and the day after I hosted a Game Night to celebrate. I had a bunch of recipes saved that I wanted to make, so the menu was a sort of hodgepodge, with some recipes soon to come (see below). I've been wanting to make this tomato tart for a long time, ever since I found it in a homemade cookbook that my parents' friends compiled as a wedding shower gift for several of us who got married in 2007. When I saw almost the same recipe on Stacey Snacks I knew I had to try it. I merged the two recipes, which had subtle differences.

This tart was really easy to make and a big hit at the party. There are a few things I will change next time to suit it more to my taste. First of all, I think I will omit the Dijon mustard. I love mustard, but for this tart it kind of overpowered the other flavors. I may use a tad more cheese, and I will also forgo the Herbes de Provence. I think simple kosher salt and pepper would really allow the flavor of the tomatoes to shine through.

Since I was making multiple snacks for the party, I took some help from the Pillsbury and used a premade pie crust - the kind that's rolled up in the refrigerated section of the store. They really are pretty good (even Giada recommends them in some of her recipes!), and great when making a homemade crust isn't conducive to time constraints. This tart is a perfect appetizer for the upcoming flurry of holiday parties!

Game Night Menu:
Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts
Layered Taco Dip with Baked Scoops
A secret dessert (which will be revealed on Friday!) UPDATE: Ultimate Chocolate Cheesecake

Tomato Tart

1 pie crust/pate brisee (either store bought or homemade)
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded
3 large tomatoes, sliced thin
Herbes de Provence, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.
1. Place pie crust in a tart pan and trim to fit. Cover with plastic wrap and allow dough to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (I did overnight to save time). Prick holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake crust for 10 minutes until set.

2. Spread mustard on crust, sprinkle cheese on top, then layer tomatoes on top, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle with Herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper to taste.

3. Bake for 40 minutes or until cheese is melted and tomatoes have begun to wrinkle.

4. Remove tart from pan and slide onto a cutting board, slice into wedges using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from Stacey Snacks and our family friends' cookbook

Friday, October 23, 2009

Layered Taco Dip

This dip has been a party staple in my family for many years. It's easy to prepare, and almost everyone loves it. I'm sure there are many versions of it floating around, but I wanted to share this one. I made it last year for my and Bob's birthday party, and people went nuts over it. It's easily adaptable because if you don't like a layer (like black olives!) you just omit it!

In general, I'm not a huge fan of baked chips/snacks (Baked Cheetos are a big exception because those things are amazing!), and I really didn't like the Baked Tostitos that came out a few years ago - I thought they tasted like cardboard. Within the last year I tried Baked Tostitos Scoops, and they are surprisingly good! I don't know if they changed their recipe or if the scoops are different than the other shapes, but these things are really great. Not quite the same as the original, but close enough that I don't mind swapping to be a little healthier!
Layered Taco Dip

1st layer - 2 cans jalapeno bean dip (note this is dip not refried beans, and it may not say jalapeno but will have it in the ingredient list)

2nd layer - 3 ripe avocados mashed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt (I omit this layer because avocado makes my mouth itch - weird!)

3rd layer - Mix 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use light), 1 cup sour cream (I use light), and 1 packet taco seasoning mix

4th layer - 1 bunch green onions (with tops), sliced fine

5th layer - 3 tomatoes, juice and seeds removed, diced

6th layer - 1 small can sliced ripe black olives, drained

7th layer - 1 package (or less) shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (I used 2% cheese)

1. Assemble all of the layers in order on a platter.

2. Refrigerate until ready to serve, but make the day you plan to serve. Goes great with tortilla chips, especially Baked Scoops!

Source: My Mom

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


This soup recipe comes from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis. The picture in the book looked great, and we love soup, but as I was making it I really didn't think I'd like it. It looked like there was way too much spinach and I didn't see how the flavors were going to blend together. As it turns out, I LOVED this soup!!! I really should have trusted in Giada because I have loved every one of her recipes that I've made. I used turkey bacon instead of pancetta and omitted the cannellini beans. Since I left out the beans, I added a bit more broken spaghetti to bulk it up. I really can't tell you how great this soup is. I will definitely be making it again!!!

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 ounces pancetta, chopped (or turkey bacon)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice (I used petite cut)
1 1o-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (I omitted)
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
3-inch piece of Parmesan rind
1 cup spaghetti broken into 1-inch pieces (extra if omitting beans; I used whole wheat thin spaghetti)
Grated Parmesan, for serving

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-heat. Add the onion, carrot, pancetta, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onion is golden brown and the pancetta is crisp, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes.

2. Add the tomato paste and stir until dissolved. Add the tomatoes and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all of the brown bits.

3. Add the spinach, beans, herbes de Provence, broth, bay leaf, and the Parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil, then add the spaghetti, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.

4. Discard the Parmesan rind and bay leaf, and ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Source: Adapted from Everyday Pasta

Monday, October 19, 2009

Skillet Lasagna

This is another recipe from "The Best 30 Minute Recipe" cookbook (from the kitchens of Cook's Illustrated). I have yet to make something from this book that we don't love, and this is no exception!

Lasagna is one of my favorite meals, but it takes a long time to assemble the components, and it makes a TON of food - so much that we end up throwing a lot out, which really bothers me. It's kind of a catch 22, because I feel that it's too much work to just make enough for 2-4 servings, but we can't possibly eat the 12 that a full pan makes. I would love if I could make multiple casseroles and freeze the others, but our tiny freezer is already packed to the brim (our apartment building supplies the fridge/freezer and it's not even a full-sized one!) Maybe someday when I have a big deep freeze . . . Ok, back to reality, so casseroles aren't always the best option for the two of us. This skillet lasagna is the perfect solution for now because it only makes 4 servings. Plus it's a one pot meal! I used ground turkey instead of meatloaf mix and reduced the amount of Ricotta cheese. We really liked this dinner and will make it again!

Skillet Lasagna

1 pound of ground turkey (recipe calls for meatloaf mix, so you may use that if desired)
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles (8 sheets), broken into 2-inch pieces
1 26-ounce jar of your favorite pasta sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups water
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (or less as desired)
1/4 cup shredded basil

1. Brown meat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop garlic and measure out the pasta. Drain meat on paper towels and return it to skillet.

2. Stir in the garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Sprinkle broken noodles in skillet, then pour in tomato sauce and water over top. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes. (Mine took a little longer to soften so I had to add a bit more water to maintain the sauciness of the dish).

4. Off heat, stir in half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot heaping tablespoons of ricotta over noodles, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and let stand off heat until cheeses melt, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

Source: Adapted from The Best 30 Minute Recipe cookbook

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Leaf Cookies

This is not just a recipe but rather a concept developed by my mom several years ago. She has been making these sugar cookies for as long as I can remember - she got the recipe from a coworker (her grandmother's recipe) many, many years ago. The recipe was given to us as "Granny's Sugar Cookies," but I call them "[Not My] Granny's Sugar Cookies" because I like to be accurate :)

We usually have these cookies at Christmas time and use reindeer, bell, and Christmas tree shapes, but one year she decided to make them in the fall with a leaf cookie cutter, and she came up with this way to dye the dough that I thought was really cool. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of crispy sugar cookies, and these cookies tend to be crispy (as opposed to the softer sugar cookies here), but a lot of people love them. They are very basic - no almond extract or lemon zest here! I realize that most people have their own favorite sugar cookie recipe, so I'm posting this more as an idea that can be adapted to any sugar cookie dough (even store bought!) If you love trying new recipes, go ahead and give this one a try! They are my mom's favorite sugar cookies!

[Not My] Granny's Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Cream together butter and sugar. Blend in 1 egg. Slowly add sifted dry ingredients, then blend in vanilla.

3. Chill dough in refrigerator for around 15-30 minutes or until it reaches a rollable consistency (you may also store it in the refrigerator for a day and bake later; simply let dough warm a bit on the counter if it has been chilled for a long time). Meanwhile preheat oven to 400F.

4. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Add food coloring in drops on top of dough and use a large spoon to disperse food coloring throughout dough in a swirled pattern (see below). I used 4-6 drops of traditional food color (not the food coloring gel) to each ball of dough. For the orange, I used 3 drops of yellow and 3 of red.

5. Take a small piece of dough from each color and mix them together just a little bit. Roll the dough and cut out the cookies to 1/4 inch thick or preferred thickness. This will produce the streaky color pattern (see below). You can add the scraps to fresh dough and this will combine the colors even more. Certain areas may look brown from the combination of colors, but this will make the cookies more realistic looking.
6. Place the cut cookies on a greased baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a SILPAT. Bake for 6-10 minutes or until just starting to brown on the edges. The time will depend on the thickness of the cookie and how crisp or soft you like them.

Source: Friend of my mom's (Susan M.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Caramel Apple Bars

As a physical therapy student, Bob has three clinicals he must complete. His current clinical is in acute care, and he works at a hospital with a big group of women. I had the pleasure of meeting them, and they seem like such a fun group! I decided to make these Caramel Apple Bars for Bob to take and and share with his coworkers.

Of course I had to try one to make sure they were ok :) and Bob participated too. We really like these alot! They are very gooey and moist, and the perfect balance of sweet and salty. We actually found out the next day, after they had chilled overnight in the fridge, that the bars stay together better and even the flavor is better, so I highly recommend following the recipe's suggestion to chill.

I found these Kraft Caramel Bits (pictured below step 3) and thought they were such an ingenious idea - who wants to unwrap an entire bag of caramels! I did some reading online to find out whether I still needed to melt them - the reviews were mixed. I decided to just dump them in the bars. While I think this was super easy and made for less cleanup, I'd like to try these with the caramel pre-melted and drizzled next time. The bits yield bars with little clumps of caramel, which is great, but I'd like to compare the two methods.

As far as the taste of the bits, they aren't quite as good as the wrapped caramels by themselves, but it's hard to tell a difference in these bars. I think they are a great alternative if you're in a time crunch or if the thought of unwrapping 45-50 caramels makes you run the other way!

Caramel Apple Bars

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 cups chopped, peeled tart apples (3 medium or 4 small)
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bag (14 ounces) caramels, unwrapped, or 1 bag Caramel Bits

Preheat oven to 400F.
1. Mix brown sugar, butter, and shortening in a large bowl (I did this in my stand mixer). Stir in 1 3/4 cups flour, the oats, salt, and baking soda. Reserve 2 cups oat mixture; press remaining oat mixture in ungreased, 13 x 9 x 2-inch rectangular pan.

2. Toss apples and 3 Tablespoons flour; spread over mixture in pan.

3. Heat caramels over low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted; pour evenly over apples. Alternatively, evenly disperse caramel bits over the apples.

4. Sprinkle reserved oat mixture on top; press lightly.

5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender (mine took about 35 minutes). Cut bars while warm. Store covered in refrigerator.

Source: Adapted from Betty Crocker

Monday, October 12, 2009

Peach Blueberry Crumbles and a restaurant review!

This summer Bob and I visited my sister and her boyfriend in Michigan. On our way home we did something I've always wanted to do - blueberry picking! We had so much fun seeing the blueberry bushes and picking two varieties of our own blueberries. I think there's something to be said about seeing food growing and realizing where it comes from - too often I forget about that when I grocery shop.

We now have a freezer full of blueberries! I made this recipe back in August when we had some fresh Michigan peaches as well, but I'm sure frozen peaches would work wonderfully. I actually used the rest of the peaches we had and made up a big batch of this filling which is in the freezer for a rainy day when I'm missing my summer fruits!

These crumbles were so delicious, as you can imagine! In my book, you can't go wrong with peaches, blueberries, and a crumb topping!

And lastly, when I started my blog I had a certain 'vision' (stated below) about the different things I would include. One of these things was restaurant reviews - which I've never actually done before. However, since Bob and I have actually been to several new restaurants lately with all the visiting parents, I thought I would share our thoughts for those of you living in or planning to visit Chicago.

Several weeks ago Bob's dad was in Chicago on business, so we all went to Roy's. The owner of Roy's is Roy Yamaguchi, who competed in Top Chef Masters. Roy's restaurants are actually in a number of states, so check their website to see if there's one near you! The cuisine is called Hawaiian Fusion, and it was fantastic! Bob and his dad shared the spare ribs appetizer, and we all split the lobster potstickers with miso brown butter. They thought the ribs were wonderful - very tender. I loved the potstickers! I would have never thought a butter sauce would pair perfectly with potstickers, but it really did. Bob had the scallops with squash puree, spinach, and pumpkin seeds - he said it was soooo amazing. His dad had the Butterfish, which he said was incredible. And I had a chicken dish, which was really delicious (I'm slowly easing my way into seafood - at least I ate the lobster potstickers!). We decided not to order their specialty chocolate souffle, but I'd love to go back to try it! Just a note on the menu - it changes often, so these items may not necessarily still be available, but this restaurant is fabulous so I'm sure anything you get there would be great!

Ok, recipe time:

Peach Blueberry Crumbles

Serves 2 (originally recipe serves 5-6).

For the fruit:
2 peaches
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (1/6 cup) fresh blueberries

For the crumble:
2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (1/6 cup) all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
dash of salt
dash of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350F.
1. Make the fruit: Place peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then immediately transfer to cold water. Peel peaches and slice. Combine lemon juice, sugar, and flour in a small bowl, then gently toss in peaches and blueberries. Let sit for 5 minutes, then spoon into 2 ramekins.

2. Make the topping: Combine flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon, and butter with an electric mixer until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingers until it's in big crumbles, then sprinkle it over the fruit.

3. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until tops are browned and crisp, and juices are bubbly.

Enjoy! :)

Source: Adapted from Aggie's Kitchen (originally from Barefoot Contessa)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart

Last week I saw Martha Stewart on the Today Show featuring some sweet and savory pumpkin dishes. The first thing that caught my eye was this pumpkin tart, mainly because I loved the spider web design! Since I've been trying to come up with a dessert to make in my new mixer and take to lab meeting, this was perfect. First of all, the mixer is awesome!!! Love it! It mixes so wonderfully and is very easy to operate and clean. I can't wait to start challenging it with meringues and yeast doughs!

This tart was pretty simple to make, and even the design was fairly easy. I guess I didn't use enough flour when rolling out the crust dough because it was a bit sticky, so it started to fall apart when I transferred it to the tart pan. I simply just pressed it together like you might do for crumb type crusts, and it was fine.

Now for the taste: The crust has some nice spiciness to it because of the cinnamon and cloves. I thought the spices paired nicely with the chocolate; it almost tasted like gingerbread. One thing I loved about the crust was the layer of chocolate on top - seriously good. One member of my lab even commented that the crust can be used for a number of recipes. The pumpkin filling was really delicious - with all of the 'moistness' and spiciness you expect from a pumpkin pie. I really, really like this dessert. I think the combination of chocolate and pumpkin is fantastic. It was simple to put together, and everyone loved it - especially the design!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
8 ounces creme fraiche (I used sour cream)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Chocolate crust (see below)
2 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate (I just used Baker's)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, creme fraiche, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and cloves until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine sieve set over a clean bowl; discard solids (I am realizing as I type this that I totally forgot to do this!!! Oh well - one less thing to clean!) Pour filling into prepared crust.

2. Bake until filling is set, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool at least 30 minutes.

3. Set a heatproof bowl, or the top of a double boiler, over a pan of barely simmering water. Melt chocolate in bowl, stirring occasionally; remove from heat.

4. To decorate: dip a spoon in melted chocolate, then drizzle chocolate over tart, forming decorative stripes. Alternatively, to achieve a spider web design: Make a cone out of parchment paper. I just Googled how to do this and followed some unclear instructions, so I'm linking a video (which I have not watched yet) because I'm sure it's easier to understand than what I read. Once the cone is made, fill it with the melted chocolate and pipe onto tart. I drew the long lines across the entire tart - like you would slice a pizza - then drew in the curved lines to connect the long lines. Make sure to be careful that the chocolate doesn't come out the top of the cone. You may also want to let the chocolate cool off a little bit before doing this, or wear gloves, because the cone gets hot! :)

5. Refrigerate until well set, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Chocolate crust

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
4 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips)

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Add butter; mix on low speed until butter is the size of small peas, about 5 minutes. Add egg; mix until ingredients come together to form a dough. For those of you without a stand mixer, since I was in your situation just a week ago and appreciate alternate directions, I'm sure this would work in a food processor or using a pastry blender/cutter by hand.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. On a lightly floured working surface, roll out dough to just thicker than 1/8 inch. Brush off excess flour; transfer dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press dough into bottom and up sides of pan; trim excess to make flush with edge. Lightly prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

3. Bake shell until firm, about 15 minutes. Immediately sprinkle chocolate over bottom of shell; smooth with a spatula.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Introducing the BEST gift . . .

I had the public seminar for my thesis on Friday - technically a requirement for our graduate program, but it's more of a fun day where a student's family comes to celebrate. After my talk, we all headed to a conference room for cake and champagne, and my wonderful and generous lab gave me a gift - A KITCHENAID MIXER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was in shock! I guess I talk about wanting one more than I thought - haha. They know I love purple, so they got it in Boysenberry - seriously a beautiful color. I never thought I would be able to decide on what color mixer to get some day, so I'm thrilled that the decision has been made for me and that I LOVE IT! I also love that every time I look at it I will remember that they gave it to me. I have so many recipes that I can make with my new mixer, and so many things that will be so much easier! Of course I will have to pick something amazing to make for a future lab meeting :)

And because I feel strange posting without a recipe, here's something I made a while ago - Blueberry Pocket Pies. I used this filling and this crust recipe, and got the idea from Mini Baker to use cookie cutters to make them into fun shapes. The only problem with these was that there is a skewed ratio of crust to filling - I guess I prefer a little more filling, so next time I'll make them bigger. I also cooked the filling before putting it into the pies, and I think this was the wrong way to go, because the filling sort of evaporated once in the pies. I think keeping the berries raw and letting them cook for the first time in the pies will help maintain the moisture. I know it's no longer blueberry season, but if you're like me and have a freezer full of blueberries, this is a great way to use them up!

Out of curiosity, do most people out there have KitchenAid mixers? (It always seems that way to me!) What color is yours? :)

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