Change is Good

I come from a family of extremely talented chefs. Our Thanksgiving is also what I like to call “deliciously unconventional.” While we have the usual mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top and various cranberry sauces, we also have wild rice with water chestnuts, pickled grapes, caramelized pearl onions, 2 preparations of turkey (one roasted, one smoked), purple cabbage coleslaw, and cucumber salad. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think I was the only one of my friends that hadn’t tried stuffing until last year.

As much as I love all the sides, Thanksgiving is all about the desserts. It is the only time of the year that my sister makes her famous apple cranberry pie, which is so good, that I would be content with eating just that. It is also the time of the year that I get to experiment with recipes suited for a larger crowd. Therefore the selection process takes a few days to complete. This usually consists of my sister and me sending each other links back and forth on gchat while we’re both at work.

This year, we agreed that the Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake from Smitten Kitchen would be the other dessert that we would make. What could be bad? The only problem was that my aunt called my mom the day before Thanksgiving to tell her that there would only be 9 people at dinner, not the 18 that we were anticipating. My aunt said that we probably wouldn’t need a second dessert, and that she could put out some fruit to go with the pie.

I wasn’t having it. I agreed that I wouldn’t make an entire cheesecake, but I decided that I wanted to keep the general pumpkin cheesecake theme. After searching various sites, I returned to trusty Martha Stewart for a recipe. But since I’m always trying to make things my own, I changed her recipe around a little. Sorry Martha, I hope you’ll forgive me and still leave me your empire when you retire. The original recipe for the Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars is here. Or you can follow the steps that I took:

Preheat your oven to 350° and line an 8″ square pan with aluminum foil

Place 4.5 ounces of gingersnaps and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in the food processor

Pulse until your gingersnaps become gingercrumbs

Add in 4 tablespoons of melted butter, and pulse until incorporated

Place your gingersnap base into your prepared pan, and bake for 8-10 minutes

Since I was following the original recipe, which said to bake the crust for 12-15 minutes, my crust came out a little blackened. I have to say though, and my sister confirmed, that the crust tasted pretty darn good despite being slightly overbaked. It tasted more caramelized than burnt. Works for me!

Blend two blocks of cream cheese (I used neufchâtel) in your food processor until smooth

Add 2/3 cup sugar, 1 cup of pumpkin puree, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoon flour (I just realized that I totally forgot to add flour), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp cloves, and 1/2 tsp nutmeg to the food processor, and process until combined

Set up a double boiler- I use a saucepan with 1″ of water in the bottom, and a metal bowl placed on top. Make sure to use an oven mitt when handling the bowl!

Add 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to the bowl and stir frequently until melted

I used semi-sweet chocolate, but you could use milk or dark chocolate too.

Once your chocolate is melted, take the bowl off of the saucepan to cool slightly.

Measure out 1 cup of the pumpkin cheesecake mixture, and add it to the bowl of melted chocolate

Stir to combine the cheesecake and the chocolate

Pour the pumpkin cheesecake mixture onto the now cooled crust

Drop tablespoons of the chocolate pumpkin cheesecake mixture into the pumpkin cheesecake

I placed 8 large dollops and a few smaller ones with the chocolate pumpkin mixture, and just kept adding to them until there wasn’t any mixture left

The dollops do not expand outward, but sink to the bottom, which is a good thing. I didn’t want to make too many circles because I wanted there to be a nice pumpkin-chocolate swirl

To make a swirl, place a knife at one side of the pan, and then drag it across to the other side

Continue to do this all the way up the pan widthwise, and then do it lengthwise

Pop it in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean

When the cheesecake cools, put it in the fridge for a few hours

Although the original recipe states that it makes 16, I cut the cheesecake into 32 bars. I think that people are more likely to eat dessert after a big meal if it is in smaller portions. Notice how most people ask for just a sliver of pie?

If you make the bars smaller, then you can also trick yourself into thinking that it’s not that bad if you go back for seconds or thirds. They’re that good. So good, in fact, that I think these will have a permanent place on the Thanksgiving dessert table


Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from Martha Stewart

For the crust:

  • 4.5 ounces gingersnaps
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 packages bar cream cheese, (8 ounces each)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with  aluminum foil. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, blend cookies with sugar until finely ground; add butter, and pulse until incorporated.
  3. Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan, and press gently into bottom. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Place cream cheese in food processor; blend until smooth. Add sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs, flour, and spices; process until combined.
  5. Place chocolate in a double boiler or a microwave-safe bowl; microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted, or stir in double boiler until melted. Add 1 cup pumpkin mixture; stir to combine.
  6. Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into prepared crust. Drop dollops of chocolate mixture onto pumpkin mixture; swirl. Bake about 50 minutes.
  7. Cool in pan. Cover; chill until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days).

How was everyone’s Thanksgiving? Did you try out any new recipes or stick to the oldies but goodies? We’d love to hear about your kitchen adventures! Email the Positive Regard girls at apositiveregard (at) gmail (dot) com

–Ariel

 

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Midweek Ramblings

Pro and con time:

PRO: I finally get to write up everything that I’ve been wanting to over the past few days!

CON: I had to take a half day from work because I’m a coughing sneezing mucus-y mess. Did I mention that my voice is so nasal I sound like The Nanny?

Onto the ramblings! Marissa came to visit me this weekend and there was much galavanting around! We had every intention of going thrifting on Saturday, but the majority of the reviews we read online said that the stores smelled like mildew and cats. Since mildew and cats aren’t some of our favorite scents, we opted to go to the outlets instead.

After walking around the outlets for hoouuursss, Marissa suggested that we travel along in search of good farm stands. It was a beautiful day so it was fitting to find some delicious fresh produce.

I believe we stopped at 3 farm stands, and all of them were great. Just check out the butternut squash Marissa is holding! There was a plethora of squash and zucchini of all varieties, enormous heads of cauliflower and broccoli, and apples for miles. I ended up bringing home a few of my favorite apples, winesapps, and they were a pound each!

And check out those turnips! I kind of wanted to get some but I’ve never cooked turnips before. I don’t think I can even remember the last time I ate one. I think some recipe research is necessary before I splurge.

One of the farm stands also had peacocks. I don’t think I’ve written about my immense love for peacocks, but believe me when I say that I LOVE them.

Lots of walking and not a lot of eating left us famished. We made a quick stop at Whole Foods to pick up a schmorgasboard of food and to look for ingredients to make dessert. You see, when Marissa first got to my apartment on Friday night, she put the bowl to her ice cream maker in the freezer.

I found a recipe for chocolate sorbet here, but we of course made it our own. We used 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate with chili, omitted the vanilla extract, and added about 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon.

The process of chocolate sorbet isn’t wildly photogenic. Oh, and we’re easily amused

Oh, you want to see the sorbet anyway? Well okay, if you insist.

Photogenic? No. Delicious? You better believe it. Words cannot describe how good the sorbet turned out. It tasted like a dark, rich brownie batter. The spice from the cinnamon and chili wasn’t apparent at first, but after you let the sorbet melt on your tongue, you were left with a tingling of heat. We didn’t eat the sorbet by itself either.

We paired it with my newest obsession. The people at Edy’s are bringing their A game with this flavor. Not only does it have fewer calories and fat than regular ice cream, the flavor is beyond good (I know I sound like a spokesperson, but I am in no way affiliated with Edy’s- I just eat copious amounts of their ice cream).

The dense chocolate and the mellow pumpkin paired perfectly together. I imagine that any variety of infused chocolate would work well in the sorbet recipe, or you could substitute in any flavor extract that tickles your fancy. If you wanted to make it completely fat free, you could also experiment with just using cocoa powder, although I would recommend a high quality powder.

Ok lovelies, I am off to use the best invention ever, the neti pot. As always, we would love to hear your imput and feedback!

apositiveregard (at) gmail (dot) com

–Ariel

Alternative Therapies

So I don’t know about you guys, but today has been a “Come home and eat Nutella out of the jar” kind of day.

My boyfriend, Mike, eats his Nutella with a granola bar. I just use a spoon. There is one downfall to Mike’s method.

Granola bars are not very durable.

See? This is why we don’t have nice things.

I kid, I kid. We have many leather-bound books.

Moving right along..There are a few things that I do, you know, other than eat various nut butters, when I’m overwhelmed. At the beginning of the summer, I decided that I needed a higher intensity workout, so I started running. I now run 5-6 days a week, depending on my schedule, and have found it to be an enormous stress reducer. I’ve found that most forms of physical activity help clear my mind and make me feel strong and confident.  My friends also play a vital role in helping to maintain my level of sanity. There’s nothing like getting coffee and shooting the breeze for a few hours, or getting together to play a round (or two) of Apples to Apples. When life feels particularly out of control, there is one place that I always return to: the kitchen. I know that at the end of a long day, most people don’t want to worry about cooking or baking, but I find it incredibly therapeutic. Plus, after having someone tell you what to do all day (boss, professor) the kitchen is your domain. You can essentially do whatever you want. I don’t bake as much as I would like, so when a friend’s birthday comes around, I get super excited and plan far in advance.

Remember this little guy from Marissa and my first post? I made him 2 years ago for my sister’s fiance’s birthday. My sister, A, and her fiance, J, are the the most fantastic couple ever. My sister is my biggest inspiration, and I’m extremely lucky to have her as a friend, as well as my only sibling.

J’s birthday is in August, so sister unit and I started planning a few weeks ahead of time. A had the idea of making a peanut butter and chocolate cake, but the restaurant where the party was taking place charged for plates and forks.  They suggested cupcakes instead, so that’s what we would make! Strange but true: My sister and I don’t really like cake. We are totally Team Pie. Whew! That feels good to get off my chest. However, I saw this recipe on tastespotting, and knew it was the one we had to make.

That’s right. That is a whooole lot of chocolate.

Since I provided the link to the recipe, I will show you the steps in the form of pictures. Isn’t that pot all full of melty goodness? MMm chocolate and butter.

Dry ingredients! I did not sift these, A did, because I hate sifting.

Sugar + eggs! I cannot tell you how excited I was to use a stick blender. It was my first time.

Lookit the swirl!! Ok, I promise there are only 3 or 4 more stick blender pictures.

Blender, getting it’s incorporating on.

FLOURED!

Peanut butter cup..cakes?!

Nothin’ says lovin’ like PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES from the oven

I was really really proud of how these turned out. It was my first time piping!

Did I mention A has a 3-tiered cupcake carrier? She does. Because she’s awesome.

As you can see, we had to decrease the height of the frosting, otherwise they would have gotten smushed by the bottom of the layer above.

Oh. Mah. Gah. Is your mouth watering? I know mine is.

The verdict: Keep in mind that I don’t like cake. This was some good cake. Therefore, if you like cake, you should probably get up right now and bake these. Seriously, why are you still sitting there? Oh, you’re waiting to hear about the frosting. Confession #2 of the night. I’m not a frosting/icing person. I find the majority of frostings to be too sweet and not have much flavor. That being said, this one was okay. I wanted to LOVE the frosting because I’m in a long-term relationship with peanut butter (don’t tell Mike), but it ended up tasting too much like confectioners sugar. Everyone at the party demolished the cupcakes, so I would say that this recipe is a definite keeper.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to go fall into a sugar coma. What are some of your favorite cupcake recipes?

Ps- I’ve been working on taking better pictures. Here is a picture of a pretty lake to prove that I’m improving. Bear with me, and any and all tips would be great!

–Ariel