Thursday, December 31, 2009

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake in a piedish

I always feel a little wistful on the last day of the year. How did 2009 slip away from me so quickly? If only I could get earth to complete its revolution at a more reasonable speed. Does anybody have any time I could borrow? No, we are all fresh out with none to spare. 2009 is dying in the night and I'm left wondering, did I finish everything that I set out to accomplish? Did I make it memorable, happy, and magical for the charges? Did I spend too much time worrying about things that really didn't matter? Did I appreciate the moments that turned into days, then weeks, then months, then years?

These are the questions that fill the pages of my journal on the last day of the year. They are good questions to ask before making New Year's resolutions. I don't want to resolve to do anything deeply meaningful. I'd rather resolve to do little things that make us more contented and unified as a family, before these babies of mine fly the coop. I know they're little, but if every year zooms as fast as 2009, it'll feel like I have approximately 12 minutes left before they are free-thinking adults. Here's one to get started:
New Year's Resolution #1
Watch the entire collection of I Love Lucy with the charges and the Quiet Man. Laugh hard. Rewind. Laugh some more.
New Year's Resolution #2
Make more cheesecake.
All right, Resolution two may not make it past the editing table, but it works nicely into this post, since it should really be about cheesecake and not angst and the unstoppable tidal wave of time. This cheesecake is low and luscious, filled with suprise bits of raspberries and a smooth round richness from melted white chocolate. Best of all, you don't need a springform pan since it bakes neatly in a pie dish and it's ready to bake in less than twenty minutes. It would be a great way to ring in the new year, or it would be a fantastic way to bring cheer to any regular night, since regular days and nights are what life is really made of. Maybe New Year's Resolution #2 really is a good idea, after all. Happy New Year's to you and yours!
White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake
Estimated Cost: $7.00
Crust:
1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
Filling:
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup frozen raspberries, not thawed
Raspberry Sauce
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare graham cracker crust by combining crumbs, melted butter and sugar. Press into 8 or 9 inch pie plate. Place in freezer while you prepare the filling. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla, beating until combined well and mixture is free of lumps. Stir in white chocolate. Remove crust from freezer and scatter berries over the bottom of the crust. Pour white chocolate filling over crust. Tap cheesecake on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Bake until the outside of the cheesecake is set and lightly browned on the edges but the middle is still jiggly, about 40-45 minutes. Cool on rack for at least one hour. Chill in refrigerator at least three hours before serving.

To prepare sauce, combine raspberries, water, sugar, and lemon in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, mashing berries for two minutes. Strain sauce. (If big chunks of berries remain, you can blend the sauce before straining.)
Happy New Year:
Be Back in 2010 with my Favorite Soups in the Crock Pot

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Candy Cane Ice Cream Cake for New Year's

This morning we have visitors coming: my brother from California with his five children, my mother and father in law from New York, my sister-in-law from Arizona with her three kids, and later my niece from Nevada with her four children. (Post Edit: I just found out another niece with her three is on her way also. It's a good thing my mom and I live just 100 footsteps from each other so we can keep all of our company housed and fed. Plus, we don't miss out on any of the fun!) But there is one more visitor on the list. This top-secret visitor is coming especially to see West, but we are sworn to secrecy until after New Year's. I'm bursting with his good news, but I must tape my mouth shut for the remainder of 2009 and hold it in.

But let's talk about the good news that I can share with you: this beautiful ice cream cake for New Year's Eve. I love making ice cream cakes for New Year's because I can make it today and it will sit happily in the freezer until I'm ready to serve it-at midnight or otherwise. An ice cream cake in the winter is so unexpected; I love the suprise value of a frozen dessert in the cold and snow. Just be sure to sit in front of the fire for this one. And you know, ice cream cakes are so delicious and easy to make, but ridiculously expensive to buy. I mean really really ridiculously expensive, don't you think? I'm glad you agree.
I start off with a Texas sheet cake baked in two rounds, which will yield two ice cream cakes. You can use a cake mix if you're rushed, but never ever use a brownie for the base. Trust me when I tell you that they freeze rock tooth-breaking solid. Choose any flavor ice cream, but this peppermint candy cane Dreyer's flavor is F-U-N for the holidays. Press softened ice cream into the same size cake pan and freeze both parts separately. Stack them together and run a knife around the ice cream to smooth the edges. Make a quick batch of ganache and cool it down in the fridge for an hour or two. It's basically spreadable hot fudge and it will make you go weak in the knees. Frost the entire cake and refreeze until serving time. Give it a little squirt of whipped cream just before serving, and if you're more organized than I am, you could even sprinkle some crushed candy canes on top. Imagine them here, please. I'll be back tomorrow with one more dessert for New Year's.
Candy Cane Ice Cream Cake
Estimated Cost: $6.00 for 10 servings
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 gallon favorite ice cream flavor or Peppermint Dreyers
Ganache:
1 cup cream
1 and 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
Grease two 8 or 9 inch rounds. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, soda and salt. In a saucepan bring the water, oil, butter and cocoa to a butter and whisk until smooth. Pour over flour mixture and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Pour into chocolate cake mixture an dstir until smooth. Scape into pan and bake for 18-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove cake from pan and place on plate. Freeze for at least two hours.
Line same cake pan with saran wrap. Place softened ice cream into pan. Freeze for at least two hours. Remove ice cream from pan and place atop cake. Run knife along side to smooth edges. Freeze again.
Make ganache by placing cream in large microwaveable bowl and microwaving on high just until cream simmers. Stir in chocolate chips until smooth. Place ganache in fridge and chill until cold, at least one hour. Frost cake with knife and refreeze until serving time. Serve with whipped cream.
Up Next:
One more make ahead dessert: Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake Tart

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Sights of Christmas

Did you have a Merry Christmas? The sweet visions are still dancing through my head.....
Want to peek in?














This one's for New Year's night: Peppermint Candy Cane Ice Cream Cake. Coming Tomorrow Morning. (Early)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Michelle's Sugar Cookies

You may think you don't have time to make sugar cookies today. But you just might if you use my sister Michelle's recipe. And incidentally, my mom might have thought that she didn't have time for another baby just ten and a half months after she had my sister Michelle, on Christmas Eve forty years ago. But here I am. My mom says I had to follow Michelle in birth so closely, because we couldn't bear to be apart. We were even in the same grade in school, and went away to college together as roommates. If only it weren't for marriage and babies, we'd probably still be joined together at the hip. I wish I were there today to help her celebrate. All the same, Happy Birthday to my sister Michelle, the Christmas Eve baby.

I was always especially jealous of Michelle at Christmas time because she came home from the hospital inside of a giant stocking that she got to reuse every year. I came home from the hospital in a station wagon. There are other reasons to be jealous of Michelle,too-like the fact that she is beautiful, kind, and wise. And also her sugar cookie recipe. Like her, it's perfect and never ever gets in trouble. It's buttery, sturdy, yet tender; the cookie, not Michelle. But best of all, her cookie requires no chill time. So, take a little time to make up a suprise for Santa tonight. The little people in your life will appreciate the cookies, but probably the gift of your time even more.
And since we're talking about time, ironically, we had to rush our stockings off making these cookies yesterday, since Sailor had a violin performance with a chamber orchestra. I think she had a little powdered sugar on her nose when we left the house. Merry Christmas to all of my dear readers. May your coming days be merry and bright.
Michelle's Sugar Cookies
Estimated Cost: $5.00
Tips: Roll out your cookies in a combination of flour and powdered sugar.
1 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 and 3/4 cups flour
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Sprinkle powder and salt evenly over dough. Add one cup of flour. Mix well. Add flour one cup at a time until blended. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut shapes and bake at 350 for 6-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies. Let cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes; remove to rack.
Frosting:
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups powdered sugar
milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine butter and sugar until fluffy and spreadable, adding milk as needed. Stir in vanilla and tint frosting as desired with food coloring.
Next Up:
Dessert for Your New Year's Parties
P.S. I just finished my December goal of running 100 miles before Christmas this morning. My feet hurt, but my jeans still fit.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor...with Pretty Sweets

Do you know how I decide what to give the neighbors for Christmas? For me, it's all about packaging. Last year, I found these little red boxes from Martha Stewart at Walmart. They had four compartments inside, so I made four different treats, including the world's easiest fudge and English Toffee.

Then I sent the Quiet Man and his posse off for delivery. Check.
This year I went back for more beautiful red boxes, but there were none to be had. Isn't that the way it always works when you find something you love?
But I did find these fun Christmas tree baking pans.
It is a foregone conclusion that on a chilly December night, everyone on planet earth on would like a warm cinnamon roll, frosted in creamy maple icing. When I'm done baking, I never ever deliver the goods. It would be like an author peeking over the shoulder of an editor reading his latest manuscript. I'm completely smitten with whatever I just baked, and I'm afraid I'd even hold on to my creation a bit too long, and stare longingly as I gave it away. So it's probably better if I stay home licking the spatula, in the kitchen, where I truly belong. My delivery team was at the ready. And every one of my neighbors got warm, fresh cinnamon rolls. They were all home. Isn't that a Christmas miracle?
Next Up:
My Sister Michelle's Best Ever Sugar Cookies

Monday, December 21, 2009

Last Minute Maple Brown Sugar Popcorn and Bonus Toffee Popcorn

You know someone is going to stop by your house this evening. Someone you completely forgot about it. They'll bring you a gift and you will stammer and tell them that you will be by later to bring a little something by; you haven't forgotten-just haven't had a chance to whip up that little something, uh..because the holidays are just so busy. This somebody is probably on the way to your house RIGHT NOW, but don't panic. All you have to do is whip up some last minute candied popcorn. And you know something? It's sweet, crunchy, and completely addictive and it couldn't be cheaper-or easier to make, thanks to a new method I tried out this morning.

Pop a couple of bags of microwave popcorn, low fat if possible, since you really don't need any added butter. Or pop you own out of about 1 cup kernels. Pour it into a large brown bag, the one you have sitting around waiting to make the brown bag apple with.
In the microwave, boil some butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup for two minutes. Stir in some vanilla (or maple extract-my favorite) and some baking soda.
Pour it over the popcorn in the bag...and give it to the most hyperactive person in your house. Let them shake it and boogie down, baby.
Voila! You've got enough to share. Phew, just in time, because wasn't that the doorbell?
Maple and Brown Sugar Candied Popcorn
Estimated Cost: $2.00 for about 2 gallon bag fulls
1 cup popcorn kernels, popped, or two bags microwave popcorn
10 tablespoons butter
1 and 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon maple extract (or sub vanilla)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pour popcorn into brown bag. In a LARGE (mixture will expand) microwaveable bowl, melt butter in microwave. Stir in brown sugar and syrup. Bring to a boil in the microwave and continue to microwave for two minutes. Stir in extract and soda, mixing well. Pour over popcorn in bag. Close bag and shake well. Return to microwave for one minutes. Stir inside the bag with a wooden spoon to distribute coating well. Rip open bag and devour, or be a saint and package some up for friends.
Toffee Popcorn....
Now, I'm also very partial to rich and crunchy toffee popcorn. Sailor just took some to a holiday party this weekend. (Get a load of her candy cane tights in the shadows.)
Here's how to make it:
Toffee Popcorn
Estimated Cost: $1.50 for about 8 cups
1 bag low fat micro popcorn, popped (or 1/2 cup kernels, popped)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Butter a medium saucepan. Melt butter in pan over low heat. Stir in sugar over low heat until completely dissolved. Add corn syrup and water. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Boil for about three minutes, OR until mixture JUST begins to turn tan, almost like the color of chino pants. Add vanilla and soda and mix well. Pour over popcorn and stir. (I would recommend the bag method above for even distribution.)
Next Up:
What we gave the Neighbors this year....