I know that Halloween has yet to come and go, but, unless you're living in a bubble (or stuck at home with your sick kidlets!), Christmas has arrived in full force. The retail world is already overloading us with reminders of the fact that we are behind when it comes to Christmas preparations.
Over the summer, I discovered a fantastic idea for Christmas gift giving on a blog I love--Dandee. She revamped her Christmas gifting to include four, and ONLY four, gifts for her kids. I realized that I needed to do the same thing. We have SOOO many toys around here, so many that they are often unappreciated, overlooked and mistreated! In fact, if the toys in this Nursery came alive (see this previous post for more on that!), they would certainly be working to form a union to protest unfair work conditions, gross abuse, and overall malcontent.
photo courtesy: andrea reubens
Check out Dandee's idea here, but it boils down to this. She and her hubby give their kids four gifts, one from each category:
Want - duh. An item your child desires to receive, like a light saber or a babydoll.
Need - Maybe this could be athletic equipment, like new soccer shoes or perhaps a new duvet cover for his or her bed
Wear - Captain Obvious again. We too have a tradition of giving pj's and shoes.
Read - I think this calls for a search for a fantastic book, not just Star Wars or Scooby Doo.
What a fantastic idea, no? It's a great way to slimline the shopping process, make us appreciate what we receive and find time to discover the true meaning of Christmas, which involves the best gift of all.
I will be formulating my list of "want" and "need." I think it would be fun for my fave Irish hubby or darling kidlets to pick out the other things!
I hope you'll consider paring down the crazy of Christmas and getting back to what is most important. And think how much easier your shopping will be! I'm looking forward to it.
Hello my bloggy pals. I'm going to tell you a secret. Come closer.
Cheesecake is the secret to making people happy.
Okay. That's not entirely true. It's not THE secret. But cheesecake certainly is A secret of temporary happiness. I know that having Christ in my heart and my life is the secret to a blessed and joyful life. But serving people cheesecake makes me happy. It will make you happy, too. Try it sometime. Like with this little doozie of a recipe.
I adapted it from the one cookbook that I actually use on a fairly regular basis. Most of my recipes come from my mom, my best friends and/or their moms, magazines or the internet. But Joy Of Cooking is one cookbook that I can get behind (even though Julia did do a little Irma Rombauer bashing in Julie and Julia). It is well-written and does a great job of elucidating the details on basic recipes that home cooks may fear attempting.
Team Cheesecake does have a lot of players, but don't be frightened. And ignore the flour, which I thought the recipe called for (some cheesecakes call for a bit), but didn't. Oops.
I realize you probably can't see who is in this picture. It's like a massive group shot on Facebook where kids from your 9th grade Washington DC Trip are tagged, but you can't see their faces.
I'll give you the details below, I promise.
I started out with the crust. I began with preheating my oven to 350 in order to bake it after it was done(freezing it was an option, too). I made a basic graham cracker crust from the Joy cookbook, but think that gingersnaps would be even better. I didn't want to run to the store, though. Start by tossing 10 grahams in the food processor. Or get out some frustration by crushing them by hand. I recommend the food processor, though, because the whole crust can be made in there.
Run the graham crackers until fully crushed and, meanwhile, gather your other crust ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, 6 TB melted butter and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Salt? In the crust of a sweet dessert? The salt adds the certain je ne sais quoi---that balance of a bit of salty with the sweet. It also serves to flavor the crust since salt enhances other flavors, even those that are sweet. An aside: please use kosher salt in your baking. I have switched and will never go back. I only use iodized salt in pasta water occasionally, and for gargling, or if a recipe demands it. I probably should take an iodine supplement, but figure my vitamin takes care of that for me.
Add all these items to your food processor and process until the crumbs are well-moistened. Then, press into your 9-inch springform pan, like so.
I know you wish your hands could look like this. See the "L" they're forming? They're talking about me and my dorkiness.
Press the crumbs about halfway up the sides of the pan and bake for 5-10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Keep the oven at 350, but prepare a bread pan filled with water to create a "steamy" environment for baking your cheesecake. Place it into the oven once you remove the crust.
While your oven is getting the steam facial ready for your cheesecake, you'd best get cracking at making it! Start by combining 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/8 teaspoon cloves.
Then whip out your fabulous Microplane. If you don't have one, ask Santa! They're fabulous. I use mine to grate nutmeg (and chocolate for the top of whipped cream on hot cocoa. Divine!). Combine these first five ingredients well.
Little Miss Pink served as my cooking assistant. She, like her mama, was quite taken with the Microplane and demanded a turn. I promise, it was after I was done with it!
See? Every girl needs a microplane!
Okay, onto the cheese part of the cheesecake. In the bowl of your mixer, add 2-8 ounce packages of cream cheese. They MUST be at room temperature. Use the microwave (with the wrapper off!) if need be, but don't ever use cold cream cheese. It will KILL your cheesecake's texture. Mix the cream cheese on medium for a minute or so, then scrape the beaters and add the brown sugar/spice mixture.
Beat again until creamy, about 1 or 2 minutes. Then add your eggs (2 large eggs + 2 large yolks) one at a time, beating after each addition.
Make sure to stop and scrape the beaters and sides periodically to make sure there are no chunks or lumps. I usually use the "whisk" attachments when I'm making cheesecake to make especially sure that there aren't any, but I forgot today. Next, you'll add in 1 cup of pumpkin puree--not too little, not too much. People who don't care for "pumpkin-y" desserts will like it, as will pumpkin lovers. It's a people pleasing recipe, people!
Doesn't that look yum? Just wait! Once you've mixed the pumpkin in well (15-20 seconds), pour the mixture into your crust and smooth the top with a rubber scraper.
Remember how we put the bread pan of water into the oven? See, it's right there in the bottom right corner, waiting to give this cheesecake a little steamy lovin' while it bakes.
The recipe calls for baking the cheesecake at 350 for 30 minutes, then lowering the temperature to 325 and baking for an additional 10 minutes, until the center is puffed but not fully set (just a bit jiggly).
While that beauty is working in the oven, mix up the second of THREE layers (!) of this cheesecake goodness! Whisk together 1 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.
When you pull out the cake, spread that goodness on top and bake for 7 more minutes. While it's baking, lick your rubber scraper because that little mixture is yum-o!
Doesn't that look so delicious!?! When you pull that baby out of the oven, set it on a rack to cool and place a larger pot lid (I used the big lid of my cast-iron dutch oven) on top of the cheesecake to ensure a very slow cooling process. The Joy doesn't state this, but I think slow cooling must minimize cracks on the surface.
Now, this cheesecake would've been quite delicious as it was right now. Well, cooled, but unadorned. I thought it needed just a little something else to put it over the edge. And I found that "something" in the fridge:
Hello, T. Marzetti. Would you like to dance delicately atop a yummy, high calorie dessert? Perfect.
I admit, I did a lousy job of applying the caramel. I tried to drizzle it, but the lid of my drizzling bottle popped off on the top of the cheesecake. Bummer. You get the idea, though.
Regardless of aesthetics, this was some good dessert. Or my favorite Irishman tells me it was, since it has too many eggs for me to eat. I took a tiny nibble and found the flavor to be creamy and delicious.
I hope you will try it and let me know what you think!
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Crumb Crust (recipe follows), cooled completely
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2-8 ounce packages cream cheese (NOT non-fat!),definitely at room temperature!
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 - 1 cup prepared caramel topping (I used T. Marzetti's from the refrigerator section, though jarred ice cream topping may work just as well).
Preheat oven to 350 and place a bread pan filled with hot water in the oven to create a "steamy" atmosphere.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg.
In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth, about a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters well. Add the sugar mixture slowly, scraping down the sides as needed and beating until smooth and creamy, about a minute or two longer.
Beat the eggs and yolks in one at a time, scraping down the sides/beaters after each addition. Beat until well blended and add the pumpkin puree. Mix until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the cooled crust and smooth the surface. Set the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until not quite fully set (a little bit jiggly in the center). While the cheesecake is baking, whisk together the sour cream, brown sugar and vanilla until well-blended. When the cheesecake is done, spread the sour cream mixture on top the hot cake gently and return to the oven for 7 more minutes.
Remove cake to a rack to cool, covering with a large lid that surrounds the cake pan and traps some of the heat, allowing the cake to cool slowly. Once mostly cooled, refrigerate the cake at least 6 hours, or better yet, 24. Before serving, smooth 1/2 cup of caramel topping on the cheesecake, or drizzle decoratively. Unmold and serve.
Crumb Crust for 9-inch spring form pan
10 graham crackers, or 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (Gingersnaps would be great!)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350. Using a food processor, make fine crumbs of the graham crackers. Add remaining ingredients and process until well-moistened. Press the mixture evenly in the pan and about halfway up the sides.
Bake 5-10 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and firm to the touch. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Little Miss Pink is going to be a Spring Chicken for Halloween. I had a very hard time deciding what she'd be. Her brothers decided early on (and somewhat to their mama's chagrin) to be Bumblebee and Optimus Prime of Transformers fame. I had visions of the threesome going as a cute little coordinated trio of costumed fun. Like last year.
Littlest Man looks positively unhappy in this photo. It's hard to get 3 kids to look at the camera and smile, especially when one is an infant. I assure you, he was pleased as punch to be Yoda. Especially with a somewhat authentic green face! I promise! Also, to clarify: It's Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia and Yoda. :)
Alas, such fun wasn't in the cards. The Little Men wanted to choose their own costumes, which was bound to happen eventually! And they're pumped to be going as Transformers (and the same costumes as their favorite cousins to boot, which makes for even more fun).
But what to dress Little Miss Pink in? A ballerina? A princess? Little Red Riding Hood? I scoured the blogosphere and the web, Family Fun Magazine and, finally, Martha Stewart. I should have started there. I saw this little nugget (no pun intended!)of cuteness and knew I'd found the costume.
Image courtesy of Martha Stewart
So, I set to acquiring the items needed for such fluffy, adorable fun.
2 Feather Boas ( $4.99/each at Saver's)
2 long sleeved onesies (I already owned-why buy leotards when we already own these?)
a white hat (that proved difficult--$10 at Target since I didn't have time to order this one)
2 red felt sheets for the comb (less than a buck for both, though I only needed one)
A pair of yellow rubber gloves for the feet ($1 for 2 pairs at Dollar Tree)
Yellow Rit dye for a pair of Little Miss Pink's tights--the photo doesn't show yellow chicken legs, but we live in MN and she'd freeze without pants or tights! ($1.50)
Batting (less than a bagful that I already owned)
Needle and thread, my arch enemies. Just kidding, but almost not.
Note the lovely bear, who served as a compliant, quiet model.
So, I got to work with the first step, attaching the onesies together with batting in between. I found it much easier to use Quilt Batting, rather than the loose batting. I just used tacky glue(this stuff -not referring to faux pas glue) to attach it to the inner onesie, wrapped it around twice. It made for a lovely, puffy base for my chicken.
Then I put the outer onesie on top and hand stitched around the leg holes. I didn't close up around the neck hole, since there wasn't loose batting to worry about.
Now, onto attaching the boa. Again, I differed a bit from Martha's plan. I tried first pinning the boa, but the puffiness of the feathers made it difficult to keep track of my pins. I ended up simply sewing and tacking the boa on as I went along, just making sure that it was fairly evenly-spaced across the body of the onesie.
This task, the attaching of the boas, was the most time consuming. And the messiest. I had feathers ev.er.y.where. I think the $4.99 boas weren't the best ever quality, but I'm not expecting this costume to be a family heirloom, so I'm fine with that. I looked all over for boas and found them ranging from $5-$30/each. I wanted this costume to be reasonably priced, so I went for cheap.
Next, I had to figure out some sort of hat to attach the comb to. I looked high and low for a white hat; all I found was off-white. Also, Martha's instructions called for 2 pieces of red felt for the comb and I only needed one. I didn't use the copier to enlarge her PDF, I just drew the comb freehand. I'm a rebel like that.
I cut the comb and made sure it kind of followed the curve of how the hat would sit on Little Miss Pink's noggin. I placed the hat on a size 3 soccer ball for comparison. My kids have big heads!
Then, I got to stitching it closed, using a 1/4" seam and a basting stitch. Okay, I have no idea what a basting stitch is. But it sounds good. I'm pretty sure it was a basting stitch, or just "tacked" closed. Does that sound right? Except, not all the way closed. I left about a 3" opening to stuff the comb.
Once it was finished, I turned the comb inside out so the seams would be neat and tidy. And then I stuffed it with some of the remaining quilt batting from the onesie project. Not too full, just a handful or so of batting.
With the comb stuffed, I sewed the little opening closed with more simple basting stitches. Now I have googled that term and am 85% confident that it is what I did. Promise.
Kinda looks like a comb, no? Excuse the darkness. The photo was taken at 11:30pm or so, when the house was quiet except for coughing, sneezing, and snoring. Ahh, the sick ward. Gotta love it.
In the light of day, I tackled the next step. Plus, I had to have Little Miss Pink try on the hat to get proper positioning of the comb. Once I figured out where I wanted it to be, I looked for the hot glue Martha told me to use in her instructions. I couldn't find it. Plus, I didn't want to ruin this hat forever and hot glue can be so messy. And hot. So, I thought I'd just tack the comb into place (look at me, throwing sewing vocab around like it's nothing!).
It worked perfectly. This shot is an extreme close up. Kind of useless, actually, except for the purpose of showing you what a horrible seamstress I am. I made the stitches fairly far apart so that the comb will be easy to take off if we want to reuse the hat.
And here it is finished. Little Miss Pink didn't want to model it for you until the costume was complete. She has to really get into character, I guess. It's part of Method Acting. Or, she was busy putting things in her purse and taking them out and wouldn't come near me or the camera. Believe whichever you'd like.All that aside, I'm very pleased with how the hat came out!
Onto the tights. I needed to dye them yellow, which was no big deal.
I haven't used this stuff since making tie dye shirts in high school. That, and the debacle I'll call "Trying to Dye My Duvet Color Red." I prefer to forget that one. Let's move on.
The shoes for the costume, or the chicken feet. Chicken feet conjure up yucky thoughts for me, for some reason. I just did a Google Images search for "chicken feet" and decided not to conjure up yucky thoughts for you by posting it. You can thank me for that. But I promise you that these chicken feet are not at all gross. They are cuter than cute, fashioned from a pair of my daughter's shoes stuffed into yellow rubber gloves, the fingers of which have been stuffed with a bit o' batting. Cute! The process is pretty self-explanatory, but I took a few pics.
And I know it's kind of cruel, but I'm not going to post a pic of Little Miss Pink in all her Spring Chicken glory until after Halloween. The reasons for which are three-fold: 1. The feathers literally molt right off this baby, so I want there to be some feathers left on Halloween. 2. I am not confident that my "tacking" abilities will hold up for more than one wear. I said it. It's true. 3. I just want to save the cuteness for Halloween. Is that too much? So here's another picture of Martha's cute model. I'm sure my little model will be cuter. Because I gave birth to her and all. I'll let you be the judge come Saturday!
P.S. You really, really should thank me for not posting pics of chicken feet. I'll probably have nightmares about them. If you're super brave and not grossed out by these types of things, you could click on, but I wouldn't if I were you!