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Adventures in early literacy


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Pumpkin Cheesecake

Now that Fall is officially here I can start in on all those spice filled, aromatic dishes. You know, the ones that make your house smell like a bakery. Personally, I’m not a huge pumpkin pie fan, but my hubby loves pumpkin pie so much it can only be expressed with moans and other yummy sounds. To compromise I’m kicking off the season with pumpkin cheesecake.  Maybe if he’s lucky he’ll get some pumpkin pie for his birthday.

Before I go any further there is one disclaimer: this makes a good sized cheesecake, so don’t make it unless you plan to eat in less than 3 days. The crust will get soggy if you let it sit for longer than that. Now, on to the recipe!

The Ginger Snap Crust:

This is seriously, without a doubt, the MOST delicious crust to ever have passed my lips. You could serve me just the crust and I’d be in heaven.

A box of organic Ginger Snaps (you’ll need about 35 ginger snaps)

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1/4 cup butter, melted

Mix these ingredients and press your crust into a 9″ springform pan, going about 1 inch up the sides

The Filling:

4 pkgs (8oz each) cream cheese (we use Lucerne and you can use the light stuff if you’re worried about calories)

1 cup sugar

1 15oz. can pumpkin

1 Tbsp pumpkin spice

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

Preheat oven to 325. Beat cream cheese and sugar with mixer until blended. Add pumpkin, spice and vanilla, mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, just blending each one. After everything is mixed and smooth, pour into crust. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the center is almost set. Loosen the cake from the rim of the pan but cool it before removing the rim completely. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Make your own whip cream with a cup of heavy whipping cream and a heaping tsp of sugar. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top of the dollop of whip cream to make the perfect topping!

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Minted Limeade

This recipe, from one of our many bbq books, is an excellent thirst-quencher on hot days.  Or any day, for that matter.

You’ll need:
1 bunch of fresh mint, rinsed and spun dry (or to taste – I used two large sprigs from the garden – about a small handful of leaves)
1 cup of lime juice (4-8 limes, depending on size, and how limey you want it)
1 cup sugar (or more to taste)

The mise en place.

 
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from four of the limes – try not to get too much of the bitter white pith.

In a small saucepan, combine the lime zest, sugar, mint and 1 cup of water, bringing to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Then reduce the heat to lowish and let simmer gently for five minutes.  Remove mixture from heat and strain into a pitcher (or let it cool to room temp first if you plan to serve right away.)

Lime zest, sugar, mint - simmering.

Juicing limes

Squeeze the juice from all of the limes (1 cup or to taste) and add to pitcher with four cups of water.  Taste and add more sugar or lime as necessary.  Stir well and chill or serve in tall glasses over ice, garnished with mint.


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Cupcakes w/ Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting

My boss was kind enough to give us a nice sized tub of fresh blueberries. There are so many options for blueberries, but I also happened to have a package of cream cheese to use so frosting it is! The only problem: no recipes for blueberry cream cheese frosting.  I did manage to find a buttercream blueberry frosting recipe so I just used the suggested amount of blueberries and the cooking instructions from the buttercream recipe and added it to a plain cream cheese frosting recipe. I tweaked amounts a little, of course, in order to end up with a good consistency. The recipe for the cupcakes is from Barefoot Contessa for sour cream cupcakes (link below). They turned out very moist and the perfect complement to the frosting. Reports were all positive! Next time I’m thinking a lemon cupcake would pair nicely with the frosting. Enjoy!

Cupcakes:

http://www.food.com/recipe/yellow-sour-cream-cupcakes-107444

  • 18 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 extra large eggs (room temp)
  • 1 cup sour cream (room temp)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Sour Cream Cupcakes

    Frosting:

  • 1 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (or enough to get to desired consistency)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • This blueberry frosting recipe was inspired by this blog: http://shazaminthekitchen.blogspot.com/2008/05/lavender-cocoa-cupcakes-with-blueberry.html

    Directions for frosting:

    Simmer blueberries on stove until most of the berries burst and release their liquids. Mash gently with a wooden spoon and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until cold. Mix blueberries with cream cheese and butter until well blended. Gradually add powdered sugar until you get your desired consistency.

    Cooked Blueberries

    Finished Cupcakes


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    S’mores Pie

    We were eating at one of our favorite pizza places and I saw a S’mores dessert on their menu. I made some kind of comment about how it looked good, and that I’d get it if I wanted to look like a blimp. Since I don’t, we didn’t order it.  After looking at all that was in it, however, it didn’t even really sound that great. This revelation started me on a tangent about the problem with S’mores replica desserts. It seems like every one I’ve had tastes NOTHING like a S’more. So Kev suggested we make our own S’more dessert. So we did. The result turned out great, but there are few things I will change next time I make it to really make it awesome.

    First, make a graham cracker crust:

    One package from a box of organic graham crackers

    1/3 cup sugar

    6 Tbsp butter, melted

    Grind graham crackers in a food processer until the grains are a little bigger than sugar.  Dump the ground crackers in a bowl with the sugar. Then mix in melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9″ pie plate.

    Graham Cracker Crust

    We then placed a layer of mini marshmallows on the pie crust. Next time we will do 2 layers of marshmallows to give it more marshmallow taste. Stick the Pie plate under a low broiler until the marshmallows turn a golden brown. Remove from the oven and pour in the pie filling.

    Filling:

    2 cups whipped cream (whip up about 2/3 of a small carton of heavy whipping cream and 2 Tbsp sugar until stiff)

    1 1/2 cups chocolate ganache (1/3 cup heavy whipping cream brought to a boil and mixed with about 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)

    Half Mixed Filling

    Fold the ganache into the whip cream and pour mixture into the pie plate. Cover and put in the freezer for several hours or overnight. Thaw before serving with more marshmallows sprinkled on top for decoration.

    S'mores Pie

    We plan to get a brulee torch and brown another layer of marshmallows on top of the pie to add even more toasty flavor.

    We were happy overall with the pie, but changing the amount of marshmallows and toasting them on top would make it better. I’m also thinking about making the ganache milk chocolate to stay true to a traditional S’more.


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    Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

    This delectable dabbling comes from a cookbook called ‘wichcraft by Tom Colicchio. Check the book out at your local library. You might even decide to buy it if you love sandwiches as much as I do. There are some really amazing looking things in this book, but being a sweets junkie I opted for the back of the book-desserts. It was a tough decision between the chocolate sandwich cookies and the peanut butter ones, but in the end chocolate won out.

    Because our grocery stores are void of cocoa nibs I had to alter the recipe right off the bat. Plus, the recipe calls for 65% cocoa bittersweet chocolate and our store only sells 60%. Not a big deal, though. It will sub straight across and unless you have a palette refined for chocolate you will never know the difference. You can also sub with semisweet chocolate (maybe add 1/4 tsp of unsweetened for a richer flavor).
    The cocoa nibs were harder. For starters, I had NO idea what they were. According to the book they are little pieces of roasted cacao beans. Well, I’m fresh out of those and wanting to keep with the idea of adding a bit of extra crunch, I experimented with coffee beans and chocolate. In a coffee grinder place a Tbsp of bittersweet chocolate chips and about Tbsp ground coffee (I used a dark roast). Grind it up until it is a powder.

    Now, in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl place 1 and 1/2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (just nuke it for about 20 seconds to get it soft) and the powder you just made. Mix with 2/3 cup brown sugar (dark or light) and 2/3 cup granulated sugar until everything is well mixed.

    Next, in a double boiler, if you have one, or in a small pan on very low heat, melt 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. Add 1 tsp vanilla to the melted chocolate and add the whole mixture to your sugar mixture.

    Now for the dry ingredients: 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Mix these all together and then add the mixture to your wet mixture until you have a smooth dough. Chill in the freezer for about 5 minutes (I forgot this step and they turned out fine).

    On your countertop spread parchment paper or wax paper to cover a fairly large area. Plop the dough down on the paper. Top the dough with another layer of paper. Now get out your rolling pin and whack the dough until you no longer feel any stress about your life. Wait! I mean, gently roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into about 2.5 inch rounds and place onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Bake them for 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

    Gather any leftover dough and roll it out again, cut more cookies, and bake more cookies. Place cookies on a baking rack or a paper bag to cool.

    Cooling Cookies

    While cookies are cooling, make your filling:

    4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped–seriously, the finer, the easier it is to melt)

    2 Tbsp unsalted butter

    1/4 tsp salt

    1/4 cup heavy cream

    Place chocolate , salt, and butter in a bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan, or in the microwave just until it boils. Don’t overheat it or it will scorch. Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter to melt the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

    Lay half of the cookies with the pretty side facing down. Using a spoon (or a piping bag if you have one) pour filling onto the cookies.

    Half Way Done

    Complete the sandwich with the other half of the cookies. Voila! You just made sandwich cookies. They look store bought and super fancy! If you don’t plan to eat them right away store them in the fridge, or some other cool place.

    Chocolate Sandwich Cookies


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    Cake Balls

    Now don’t go getting your mind in the gutter. This is not like something you would find in Voodoo Donuts. But they are still totally amazing in my completely unbiased opinion.

    The recipe is so simple unless you decide to make it harder (and better):

    1 cake from a cake mix

    1 can prepared frosting

    almond bark or dipping chocolate to cover the balls

    Bake the cake according to the directions on the box and let it cool. Once it is cool dump it into a large bowl (don’t skimp on the bowl or you’ll be sorry) and crumble it up. Now dump in the frosting and stir the two together until you have a workable “batter”. Using a melon baller or something similar scoop the batter out of the bowl, form it into a ball and place it on a cookie sheet or wax paper. After you have rolled all the balls I like to refrigerate them for at least an hour so the stiffen up and are easier to dip. Melt your dipping chocolate and dip the balls into the chocolate using a toothpick, or if you are more talented than I, use a fork. After you have dipped all the balls use the remaining chocolate to fill in the hole on top, caused by the toothpick and drizzle some on top for decoration if you like. That’s it! Told you it was easy.

    Now, if you want everything to be totally homemade here are the recipes I used for amazing raspberry chocolate balls. 

    Chocolate cake (from an old Hershey’s cookbook):

    3/4 cup butter (softened)

    1 3/4 cups sugar

    2 eggs

    1 tsp vanilla

    2 cups all-purpose flour

    3/4 cup cocoa

    1 1/4 tsp baking soda

    1/2 tsp salt

    1 2/3 cups water

    Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed (3 on a stand mixer). Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture. Pour batter into greased pans. You can use two 8 or 9 inch layer pans or one 12×9 pan (I used the bigger pan).  Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool before dumping into a bowl and adding frosting.

    Raspberry cream cheese frosting: see original recipe here

    8 oz (1 package) cream cheese

    1 cup unsalted butter

    1/4 cup raspberry preserves

    2 tsp raspberry flavoring or 2 Tbsp Raspberry Chambord liquor

    2 lbs powdered sugar, or enough to get your desired consistency

    Beat cream cheese and butter and light and airy. Mix in preserves and flavoring until evenly blended. Add sugar until you reach the desired consistency and taste.

    Dipping chocolate:

    1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

    1/8 lb paraffin wax (Gulf Wax, Parowax or some other kind of wax from the baking isle)

    Melt the chocolate and wax on low heat until it is very runny. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting just to keep the chocolate hot, but so it won’t burn. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking or burning.

    This isn’t a really great picture, but you get the idea. You can see pictures where people have really spent lots of time decorating them by googling “cake balls”.

    Cake Balls


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    Cream Cheese Pound Cake

    Worth a try, but not my personal favorite. Kev and I both prefer a lighter pound cake. This one literally weighs a pound. It is very dense and should not be consumed after a very large dinner. Seriously.

    It was really tasty with strawberries and a chocolate ganache, though. Of course, anything would be good with strawberries and a chocolate ganache…

    Here’s the recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Cream-Cheese-Pound-Cake-III/Detail.aspx

    Not a lot of different ingredients, but huge amounts of the ones used. This is the first time I have ever used 6 eggs in a dessert! The unique aspect of the recipe is its use of cream cheese. It really does make a difference in the denseness of the cake. Anyway, here’s how it’s done:

    If you have one, pull out your kitchenaid mixer now. Otherwise get the hurkinest (so a word) bowl you own and an equally hurky (okay, that might be pushing it) mixing spoon. Dump in 3 sticks of softened unsalted butter and an 8 oz. package of cream cheese. Mix it until they are creamy. Then add 3 cups of white sugar and the 6 eggs (2 at a time) and mix well. Add 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 tsp vanilla and mix even better. 

    The recipe says to pour it into a tube pan. I’d say more like “spread”. The batter is really thick so I really had to squish it into my bundt pan and even after trying my darndest to get it all even one side ended up with more batter than the other so my cake was lopsided. 😦 Anyway, after you get the stuff in the pan put it in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Check it to see if it’s done. If not, stick in there for another 10-20 minutes.

    Drizzle chocolate ganache (1 cup boiling heavy cream poured over 8 oz. choc. chips) over it and serve with strawberries or raspberries, or just sprinkle on some powdered sugar and enjoy!

    That’s it! Easy as pie. Or pound cake.

    P.S. Maine trip blog on its way…stay tuned.