Grand apologies for the delay in action!  However, this dessert is nothing less than perfection and the rave review are pouring in!

“That food is good.” says Boyfriend.

“Really really good!” says Dad.

“Oh Leighann, the torte is fabulous!” says Mom.

While in the oven, the apple juices and the cinnamon work together with the vanilla to bake deliciously into the cream cheese creating a beautiful middle layer between the fruit and nuts on top and the amazing crust.

And the crust!!  This is better than any cheesecake crust I have come across ever!  Instead of bumbling crumbs loosely held together, you get to enjoy the this wonderful fruit and almond covered cheesecake on top of a cookie!  Lightly sweet and chewy, the crust is reminiscent of a sugar cookie or a soft shortbread and still holds everything in place.

The only downside of this dish (and I’m using “downside” incredibly loosely) was that the slices of apple were a little large and caused a bit of smooshing while plating each slice.  Next time I would try cutting the apples into chunks instead because I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Verdict: Sweet, creamy,  and lightly spiced with a cookie crust – this is a great dessert for the holiday season and all cold-weather months!

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This is the time of year when we feel the necessity for all things to be nostalgic, familiar and steeped in tradition, but with the beginning of this holiday season,  I couldn’t help thinking of a friend who once told me that her favorite family Thanksgiving tradition was to never have the same meal twice.  Of course it can be risky to attempt a new recipe under the spotlight of the Big Thanksgiving Dinner, but the bigger the risk the bigger the rewards, right?

I found this recipe in a fashion magazine.  The instructions were weird, but the accompanying photograph looked divine.  So, I’m giving it a shot.  A shot in the dark.

Bavarian Cranberry Apple Torte

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups apples (4-6 medium apples)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 450°.

Peel, core and slice apples.  For me, four apples were more than enough to make four cups sliced.

In a medium bowl, cream butter, 2/3 cup sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.

Blend in flour.

Form a ball and press dough onto bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of a 9″ springform pan.

Cover crust in the raspberry jam and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

In another medium bowl, combine cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar.

Add eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla and mix well.

Pour over jam-covered crust.

In yet another bowl, toss your peeled, cored and sliced apples with the cranberries, cinnamon, and remaining sugar.  A spatula works well to ensure all apples and cranberries are equally coated in cinnamon sugar, but eat a few of these to be certain.

Spoon the delicious cinnamon sugar fruit over the cream cheese and sprinkle the top with almonds.

Bake torte at 450° for 10 minutes.  (Smart move: place the springform pan inside of a larger pan or on a cookie sheet.  The sugar makes the apples quite juicy, and unless you want to learn what your smoke detector sounds like, dirtying an additional pan is well worth it to catch these drippings.)

With the torte still in the oven, lower heat to 400° and bake for an additional 40 minutes.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to firm up filling.

I’m keeping mine in the fridge overnight – Do Not Open Until Thanksgiving!!  Stay tuned for part two tomorrow where I’ll see if the results of this new recipe was worth the risk!

pastitsio

May 28, 2011

If you grew up with boxed pasta dinners like I did, this meal is like a Hamburger Helper who cleaned up it’s act, got a haircut, put on a tuxedo, and smells gooood.  This takes Dick Whitman and turns him into Don Draper.

Pastitsio is a nutty, creamy, meaty, hearty pasta dish with Mediterranean roots consisting of tubular pasta, seasoned meat, and a béchamel sauce (a flour-based white sauce).  It’s been well over a dozen years since I last enjoyed this meal, so I was thrilled when I stumbled upon it while recently perusing the classic Red and White Cookbook.  Instead of working from the recipe as it goes in the book, my mom filled my hands with a copy of her preferred method – as well as a pound of hamburger.

(This is probably as good a place as any to come out and state for the record that I’ve had a fear of cooking meat.  It’s a little silly – I know! – but there’s something terrifyingly intimidating about those raw wads of meat, especially knowing that if you don’t cook it right the results can be gross and dangerous!!  I have made due living with this fear, because somebody else ALWAYS wants to barbecue or otherwise cook the meat for the entree at a dinner party.  But it’s time to grow up.  And my mom made me do it, by handing me a pound of hamburger and challenging me to make something of it.)

So this one is kind of complicated, but it’s totally worth it for these absurdist Chicago spring nights with sudden temperature drops to just-above freezing.

Pastitsio Ingredients

(Its a bunch, so I’ma break it down by the steps for you.  You’ll have to pay attention when shopping this one out because there is milk, cheese, eggs, and salt used in a couple places.)

Pasta

  • 1-1/2 cup tubular pasta (elbow macaroni works swell, I just wanted to say tubular because I haven’t heard the word in use since cartoon characters of the early 90s)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese  (shredded also works just fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk

Meat

  • 3/4 pound ground beef (for a healthier alternative, use ground turkey instead! Thanks to Jess for the great suggestion!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (again, shredded is also great)

Ready?  Cook the pasta.  Strain.  Put pasta into a medium bowl.

Stir in its buddies, namely the beaten egg, parmesan cheese, and milk.  Stir it up and set to the side.

Scary time for the meat which actually isn’t that scary at all!  Browning beef is about as complicated as scrambling eggs.  (If only someone had told me!)  Anyways, in a skillet, cook the ground beef and onion until the beef is brown and the onions are tender.  Drain excess fat.

In a medium bowl (or the skillet), combine the cooked meat and onions with the tomato sauce, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground pepper.  Stir it up.  Set to the side.

In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Blend in flour and salt. Stir in the milk, stirring until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.  Add beaten egg and parmesan and keep it moving in the pan.  You want the results to be creamy, not stucky.

Keep mixing it up (but don’t expect auto-focus to keep up with you!)

Time to start assembling!  It’s recommended that this meal be made in an 8x8x2″ dish because that will allow for nice, even, thick layers.  I had a rounded 9×12″ dish which can accommodate the volume, but isn’t ideal because the layers get spread out and aren’t as even or thick.  Anyways.  Dish out half of the macaronis into the dish.  (Here is probably 2/3 of the macaroni.)

Spoon all the tasty meat sauce on top of the macaroni layer.

Cover the meat with the second half of the macaronis.

Smooth it over with your béchamel sauce.  Top of with a sprinkle of cinnamon (nutmeg for a bolder touch).

Cook uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Serve it up and share with five other people (or eat it by yourself for dinner six nights in a row, I won’t judge).  You can see here where it’d be better to have that narrow deep casserole dish.  A thick cream layer makes this meal hella tasty, although by no means was this spread out version anything close to terrible.

And there you have it ladies and gents, overcoming silly fears with a hearty meal!

Once a staple of fundraising bake sales and post-game soccer treats, these delightful cubes of gooey goodness have gone by the wayside.  Ever since the individually packaged interpretations of these came on the market in their bright blue wrappers, my aversion to these factory versions has kept me away from enjoying the simple pleasure of making a batch of these myself.  Now no longer the case!

I was alerted to this fabulously easy-to-make recipe from Poppytalk by my awesome friend Alda (of the printmaking duo Beside Herself), of Rice Krispie treats for grown ups.  By browning the butter, a rich almost-nutty flavour is introduced to a favorite childhood memory.

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 5 oz mini marshmallows (half a bag of minis – I had the fluffy full sized marshmallows and used about 20 which had to be torn into bits – a smidge sticky, yes, but it works)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies

In a large pot, melt the butter while stirring frequently over medium heat.  Be sure to pay attention, as there is no fun in burnt butter Rice Krispie treats.  Remove from heat once the butter is browned and stir in the marshmallows until you’ve got a smooth goop.  Stir in salt.  Add cereal and stir until all is evenly coated.  Squish into a greased 8×8 pan with a flexible spatula.  Once cool, you’ll have nine yummy squares to share!

Between my dad, me, and a pair of three-year-old twins, this initial batch of treats disappeared at record speed.  Dad said plainly that these were the best Rice Krispie treats he has ever had (only slightly garbled by stating this fact with his mouth full with one). Since the recipe is easy enough to make, I whipped up a second batch, this time using Cinnamon Cherrios.  Two words for this adaptation: Do It.  With my attention compromised by bouncing toddlers matched with my eagerness to get these Cinnamon Cheerio treats into my face ASAP, I added too many marshmallows and didn’t wait long enough for them to completely melt into the butter.  This resulted in the appearance that Spiderman may have had a hand in helping make these.

In this instance, the subtle flavour brought by the brown butter was masked by the cinnamon, however this still yielded superbly tasty results.  Yum yum yum yum!

bread pudding

March 20, 2011

I have never made bread pudding before and I can’t recall ever being served bread pudding either.  It’s not the most enticing name, bringing to mind a marriage of croutons and Snack Packs – not exactly a winning combination.  However, when I called my father to tell him I would be crashing my parents’ belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner, the sound of delight in his voice was evident as I let him know a bread pudding would be joining me.

(By the by, when did a straight-forward corned beef and cabbage dinner become so delicious?!  In my childhood, this meal was synonymous with a sour soggy plate of stewed bland colors that my younger brother and I could bear only with the help of French’s mustard racing stripes and plugging our noses to ingest the rest.  My taste buds must be maturing now as I was absolutely enchanted in this year’s meal: the salty vinegar flavours of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes contrasted wonderfully with the lightly sweet and creamy qualities of buttered soda bread and a Guinness.  I even went back for seconds!)

This recipe comes from what I’ve affectionately known my entire life as the Red and White cookbook.  The book has been a staple of my mother’s collection and I have inherited her mother’s copy of the same cookbook.  It is fabulously informative, divided by tabs into twenty separate sections, with color photos, and simple instructions with suggestions for variations on the recipes.  Best of all – it’s a binder!  A cookbook that lies flat when opened!!

This is a superbly simple recipe that I was able to bang out to completion in under one hour, including cooking time.  And if you were like me, having never enjoyed bread pudding before I’ll let you in on the secret: it’s custardy french toast for dessert!

This recipe yields 6 servings and has an accompanying Whiskey Sauce topping.

Bread Pudding Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups (about 4 slices) dry bread cubes
  • 1/3 cup raisins or other dried fruit

Dry bread.  There is a few way you can do this, either leaving the bread out overnight or toasting the slices.  I have a tiny toaster so I baked the slices for 15 minutes in a 300 degree oven.  Cut (for more fun, rip and tear) bread into cubes.  Place cubes in a baking pan.  (I have a 9″ round pan, but an 8″ round or 8×8 would also work.  Use what you have in your cupboards, most of the time it will be fine unless the dish is inappropriately large or small for the recipe.)

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Sprinkle raisins or dried fruit over bread.  The dried berry mix I had on hand has cranberries, cherries, strawberries, and blueberries in it.

Pour egg mixture over all, making sure each bread cube gets sufficiently soggy.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted into a bread cube near the center comes out clean.

Whiskey Sauce Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey

Melt butter in a medium saucepan.

Stir in sugar, beaten egg yolk, and water.  Over medium-low heat, stir constantly for 5-6 minutes or until sugar dissolves and mixture boils.  (Serious stress on the constant stirring.  Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard-boiled egg yolk on your hands and that would be gross.)

Remove from heat and stir in whiskey.

Spoon sauce over warm bread pudding and enjoy the messy deliciousness!

I will certainly be revisiting this recipe in the future.  It is easy to make using basic ingredients, producing an uncomplicated dessert that is welcome to adaptations.  I plan to try this out again in the summertime with dried cherries and opting for amaretto or Southern Comfort instead of whiskey in the sauce.

french press coffee

March 19, 2011

In the rush and go of the workweek routines are set and it becomes difficult to try something new.  First alarm goes off, go back to sleep for another hour.  Second alarm goes off, fill the coffeemaker, push the button, into the bathroom, pour the coffee, make lunch while eating breakfast, get dressed, etc.  Deviating from this daily schedule can lead to catastrophe (like that time I turned the coffeemaker on without the pot underneath because I didn’t have my glasses on yet and had forgotten it was still on the drying rack from the night before – oops).

Weekends are for trying out different things (or even for just trying things differently).  I had purchased a french press years ago at a home goods store’s going-out-of-business sale, but since I’d never used one before, it had been resigned to becoming a display item in my kitchen.  This morning, the first attempt at brewing coffee in a different way came out to wonderful results.  At this point in my life, I’m generally seeking caffeine content over flavour in the mornings and therefore I get by with the lesser quality coffees that are friendlier on my wallet.   However, since the filtering process in a french press involves a fine mesh and all the technology of a plunger, the results taste less like the coffee has been strained through a paper bag and the actual flavours of coffee aren’t stuck back with the grounds.

Another delicious experiment is to switch up how you take your coffee.  Instead of a vanilla flavored coffee creamer, this morning I opted to use brown sugar and whipping cream (left over from the chocolate ganache portion of the Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes) with delightful results.