Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Graham Cracker Crust

I have never made cheesecake before. It's another dish that I've always wanted to try, but was intimidated by stories of half set, cracked, and stuck to the pan cheesecakes. Ha! I have conquered the beast and all it took was a well greased pan, a pan of water in the oven, and a sharp eye close to the end of the baking time. This is totally doable for the holidays and I like this recipe better than pumpkin pie.
This cheesecake is adapted from a Paula Deen recipe that has stellar reviews and is very similar to Cheesecake's Factory's pumpkin cheesecake. Whether you love or hate Paula Deen, you've got to admit the woman knows how to make something rich and decadent. And what better time for decadence than at the holidays, when there is plenty of people around to help you polish this off.

This recipe starts with  a simple crust of crushed graham cracker, brown sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter pressed into the bottom of a pan.

Then you beat 3 packages of cream cheese until they are light and fluffy and mix in the rest of the filling ingredients. Here's the filling before it goes into the pan:
Then you pour the filling over the crust and bake for about 60-75 minutes. I put the cheesecake on the middle rack and a pan of water on the lower rack to help it keep from cracking. Start checking the cheesecake at about 60 minutes. It's a bit tricky to tell when it's done. It should be slightly puffed on top and it will still shake somewhat, but it shouldn't jiggle like jello. When I checked mine at 65 minutes the outer edge was puffed but the center was still really jiggly. 10 more minutes and it was perfect.  You can definitely use a regular springform pan instead of the bundt-style one with the center hole that I used here. It's just what my husband's family had handy. Here it is after baking, puffed with only a couple of hairline cracks.
You let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then cover it and refrigerate at least fours hours before serving. The cheesecake shrinks away from the sides of the pan as it cools, making it really easy to remove after the chilling period. Please excuse the orange-colored pictures. It was all I could do at 8 pm before it was devoured.
My husband whipped some cream with brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla for the topping, but if you want to take this up a level or two, I think a few candied walnuts or pecans and maybe a small drizzle of caramel on top would be awesome. (A restaurant in Atlanta serves pumpkin cheesecake this way and it's by far my favorite).  I also want to try these in muffin tins for mini cheesecakes when it's just my husband and I eating; the rest should freeze well. Other alterations might include: gingersnap crumbs for the crust or pecan meal for the crust and nut flour in place of regular for a gluten-free version.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted slightly from Paula Deen's recipe
(Paula says this yields 8 servings, but it's so rich that many people will only want a sliver. I would guess the servings are actually about 12, and you could definitely get 16 if you plated it for your guests.) 



  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (Buy crumbs or crush crackers in a bag with a rolling pin.)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick melted salted butter 
    • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (or sub Neufchatel for less fat)
    • 1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin (about 2 cups if you make your own)
    • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
    • 1/4 cup sour cream (or sub Greek yogurt)
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

      1. Preheat your oven to 350. Set the racks to the middle and lower positions. Put a pan of water on the lower rack. Grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan.

      2. Make the crust: Melt the stick of butter and set aside. Combine all the other crust ingredients and then stir in the butter until moistened. Press into the bottom of the springform pan.

      3. Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese with a hand blender until light and fluffy. Beat in all the other filling ingredients, adding the flour last. Pour over the crust.

      4. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until the top is slightly puffed and the cheesecake no longer jiggles like jello (it will still shake some). Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for four hours or more. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and release from form. Enjoy!

      Monday, November 21, 2011

      Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Topping

      Saturday was my birthday and instead of a regular old yellow cake my mother-in-law made me one of my favorites: this super moist oatmeal cake with coconut and pecan topping. And because it has oats in it you can justify having it with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next day (if it makes it that long). 
      The cake itself is mildly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, studded with nuts, and is very crumbly and moist. Once the cake is baked, you mix up the coconut and some more nuts with a substantial amount of butter and spread it over the cake while its still hot. The cake is then broiled for an additional few minutes to give it a crispy, toasty, nutty coating. I adore the mild/flavorful and moist/crispy contrast that goes on between the cake and topping. I have never had anything similar to this cake and apparently it's an old-fashioned recipe her mom used to make.
      As an added bonus the whole thing comes together in about an hour including the baking time and you probably have most or all of the ingredients in your pantry. Make it now! It's great any time of day.

      Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Topping 

      Cake Ingredients 
      1 ½ cups boiling water
      1 cup rolled oats
      ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
      1 cup sugar
      1 cup brown sugar
      2 eggs
      1 ⅓ cup flour
      ½ tsp. salt
      1 tsp. baking soda
      1 tsp. nutmeg
      1 tsp. cinnamon
      ½ cup chopped nuts (I like pecans!)

      Topping Ingredients
      1 cup brown sugar
      1 egg
      ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
      1 ½ cups shredded coconut
      1 tsp. vanilla
      ½ cup chopped nuts (I like pecans!)
      3 tbsp. cream or milk


      1. Pour the boiling water over the oats and let stand for 20 minutes. 

      2. Cream the stick of butter with both sugars, then add 2 eggs.

      3. Stir in dry ingredients and oatmeal alternately.

      4. Stir in nuts and spread in a greased 9” by 13” pan. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

      5. Beat together topping ingredients and pour over hot cake and broil for a few minutes until coconut is browned.

      Sunday, November 13, 2011

      Skillet Apple Crisp

      Stop what you are doing and make this now! It is a-FREAKIN-mazing. It tastes like apple pie and Poppycock had a love child. Even more so because I covered all my servings with salted caramel. It is a sugar bomb of glory that beats out all other pie/tart/crisp style desserts for me. Sweet apples are tossed with a cider mixture and baked with a buttery oat and pecan crumble topping. Any sweet apple like Gala or Honeycrisp would work for this.

      First you toss your prepped apples with a cinnamon-sugar mixture and mix up the crumble topping:

      Then you cut the butter into the topping and throw the apple cider into a skillet to reduce. The cider should reduce by about half in volume. I didn't reduce mine enough so there was some extra liquid on the bottom of my crisp, but it thickened up nicely in the fridge.

      After you reduce the cider, you remove it from the pan and stir it with the lemon juice. Then you throw the apples in the same skillet and cook them until the edges start to get soft, but they're not totally cooked through (the apples finish cooking in the oven):


      Then you toss the reduced cider mixture with the apples, add the topping, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. And if you wanna go completely over the top, you whip up a batch of salted caramel while the crisp is baking:


      Then you devour it while convincing yourself that most of the pan is a reasonable serving size. I mean it is mostly apples, right?

      Skillet Apple Crisp

      Yields 6 to 8 servings
      Adapted from Cook's Illustrated via Brown Eyed Baker

      For the Topping:
      ¾ cup all-purpose flour
      ¾ cup pecans, chopped fine
      ¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
      ½ cup light brown sugar
      ¼ cup granulated sugar
      ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
      ½ teaspoon salt
      ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

      For the Filling:
      3 pounds Honeycrisp apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
      ¼ cup granulated sugar
      ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
      1 cup apple cider
      2 teaspoons lemon juice
      2 tablespoons unsalted butter

      1.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Prep your apples and toss them with the cinnamon and sugar (from the filling ingredients).

      2. In another bowl, make the topping by combining all the topping ingredients EXCEPT the butter. Then cut the butter into the topping mixure.

      3. In a skillet, simmer the cider until it's reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes. Remove and stir with the lemon juice.

      4. In the now empty skillet, cook the apple mixture in the 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring frequently for 12-14 minutes over medium heat. Don't completely cook the apples.

      5. Toss the cider mixture with the apples and cover with the topping. Bake for 15-20 minutes. While it's baking, you can make this salted caramel recipe, just reduce the salt by half or more. Let the crisp cool a few minutes before devouring.

      Sunday, November 6, 2011

      Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice)

      You should know I'm not a native Southerner. I'm from Miami, which is a whole different ballgame. You know what the most awesome thing about Miami is (ok apart from all the awesome beaches and the fact that you can have pool parties in December): the food, specifically Cuban food. And I miss it like crazy. So a couple of weeks ago I made a 45 minute trip outside of my usual stomping grounds in Atlanta for Cuban food. And while the arroz con pollo at this restaurant was very good, there was enough salt in it to kill a horse, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Don't get me wrong, I like salt, but if your first thought is "This is salty.", then it's too salty. Anyhow, I digress.

      So, I decided to pull out a Cuban cookbook that I bought a while back and haven't used. I made their version with a few tweaks. OMG, best arroz con pollo ever! I am kicking myself for not having tried it sooner. It's pretty easy, makes an enormous amount of food, and is way better than any restaurant version.  Tender, fall off the bone chicken and perfectly seasoned rice studded with chorizo, onions, bell pepper, and peas. You won't look at chicken the same way again. It's from the cookbook Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban, which despite the dorky title appears to be a gem of a cookbook. I've since tried a split pea soup recipe, which was also excellent (I didn't even think I liked split pea soup before).

      Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the authors/publishers of this cookbook, and if I ever receive something free to try, I will always let you know. 

      This dish is not healthy and you really shouldn't try to healthify it by using boneless, skinless chicken. It will just be bland. If you have to cut the fat a little, skip the chorizo or use turkey sausage or turkey bacon instead. The original recipe actually calls for regular bacon, but my favorite versions always have pork or chicken chorizo.

      Another word of warning: this recipe calls for Bijol powder, which can be a pain to find. The Bijol is mostly made up of annatto powder, which is a Latin spice that adds flavor and colors the rice the orange color that is typical of arroz con pollo. If you can't find Bijol or annatto powder, you can substitute Goya's Sazon con Azafran, which is pretty widely available in the ethnic section of grocery stores. DO NOT buy whole annatto seeds like I did. They are a royal pain to work with because they are super hard and can break spice grinders and food processors. I only managed to crack mine with my marble mortar and pestle. If all you can find is whole annatto seeds, soak them for an hour or two and make a paste with them after they soften. 

      And last, but not least, make sure to get parboiled rice (aka converted rice) since it holds its shape and doesn't turn into mush with the extended cooking time.

      Arroz con Pollo
      Serves 8
      Adapted slightly from Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban


      1/2 pound chorizo
      8 chicken thighs, skin on (Don't substitute boneless, skinless chicken or it will be bland!)
      2 cups chopped onion
      2 cups chopped green pepper
      4 large cloves garlic, mashed or pressed
      3 1/2 cups chicken broth
      1 12 ounce bottle of beer
      1 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
      1 teaspoon Bijol or annatto powder (or Goya's Sazon con Azafran, or as a last resort annatto seeds, see discussion above)
      1 bay leaf
      2 teaspoons oregano
      2 teaspoons ground cumin
      1/2 teaspoon black pepper
      3 1/2 cups parboiled rice
      1/2 cup frozen peas
      salt to taste


      1. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and a little cumin and set aside.  Squeeze the chorizo out of its casings and saute in a large skillet, breaking it into bite size pieces as it cooks.

      2. Remove the chorizo from the skillet and add it to a large stockpot or dutch oven. In batches, brown the chicken on both sides in the rendered chorizo fat. The chicken shouldn't be cooked through just crispy and browned on the outside. Add it to the stockpot as well.

      3. Saute the green pepper and onion in the same skillet until the onion is translucent. Then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Transfer the mixture to the stockpot.

      4. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the peas to the stockpot and stir to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a very low simmer, cover, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes until the mixture is no longer soupy. Scrape the bottom occasionally so the rice doesn't burn.

      5. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes more.