Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake

For dessert today my family will be having this Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake that I stumbled upon in the checkout lane of the grocery store. The recipe is from the Pillsbury Thanksgiving Classics Cookbook.

* 1 1/2 cups chocolate graham crackers (slightly more than 1 sleeve)
* 1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
* 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
* 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
* 1 cup packed brown sugar
* 2/3 cup granulated sugar
* 5 eggs


* 1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts), toasted and chopped
* 2 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 cup caramel topping

Mix the crushed graham grackers and melted butter to make the crust. Spread the crust in the bottom of your springform pan and compact it with something wide and flat (I used the bottom of a coffee mug). Pre-bake at 300 for 8-10 minutes.

Using an electric mixer mix the room temperature cream cheese, making sure to get rid of any lumps. Add eggs one at a time while, scraping the bowl in between to avoid lumps and promote a homogeneous mixture. Add sugar and continue to mix. With the brown sugar be sure to break up any hard sugar balls with your fingers. The mixer won't do the job.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, pumpkin spice and pumpkin filling.

Add the pumpkin filling to your cheesecake filling and mix thoroughly. Your end result should appear to be a very light orange with freckles typical of a pumpkin pie. Don't worry if the batter doesn't taste good on its own. Some cheesecake is like that. This is one of them.

The recipe calls for a 75-85 minute bake at 300 degrees. I use a steam bath for my cheesecakes so I pushed the temperature to 325. Every cheesecake is different, so either way you should bake for about 70 minutes and then check periodically to see if the cheesecake is set and golden around the edges and slightly firm in the middle.

Cool at room temperature for 2 hours, and in the refrigerator for 4 additional hours (or overnight).

For the topping I chopped and toasted (aka sauteed) walnuts and set them on top. Then I steam melted (stainless steel mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water) a 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, dipped the tines of a fork in the melted chocolate and pretended to write cursive over top of the cheesecake. Same with the caramel (though I used the microwave). That gave it the wacky, artfully out of control look you see.Later tonight or tomorrow, I'll add an update to the bottom of this post and let you know what I thought about its taste.

Final Verdict:
Not as sweet as regular cheesecake, not as pumpkin as pumpkin pie. So in the end it sort of leaves you pining for both. A decent recipe, but not anything to write home about. The guests enjoyed it more than I did, but I felt like they would have been more impressed by a normal cheesecake with similar toppings.

Spinach Balls

I just wanted to share a quick recipe with anyone that might need a last minute idea for Thanksgiving. My mom makes them for Thanksgiving every year. I credit spinach balls for helping me turn the corner on the "I don't like vegetables" days of my youth.

Spinach Balls (makes 35-40)

4 - 10 oz packages frozen spinach
4 - large eggs
3 tbsp - italian dressing
1 - bag of large, caesar cut croutons (crushed)
1 - medium purple onion, chopped
1 - red/yellow/orange sweet bell pepper, chopped
1 - clove garlic, minced
1 tsp - Nutmeg
2 - tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tbsp - extra virgin olive oil (optional)
1 pkg - Shredded cheese (Asiago, Parmesan, Mozzarella)

Defrost, drain (extremely well, press if necessary), and chop (if not already chopped) frozen spinach. Crush croutons into crumbs, scramble eggs and mix in bowl. Add nutmeg, cayenne pepper, garlic, olive oil to crumb/egg mixture. Add spinach in 4-5 separate handfuls, mixing/kneading by hand for even distribution. Add chopped pepper and onion, mix/knead by hand. Add 1/2 package of shredded cheese, mix by hand, add Italian salad dressing, mix by hand.

Scoop into ping-pong ball sized portions and place on parchment paper covered cookie sheet, sprinkle with cheese, cook in center of over at 350 for approx 15-20 mins or until exterior is slightly browned/crispy.

Some ingredients/seasonings (such as the salad dressing) can be added/subtracted/changed to taste. Much of the flavor comes from the crushed croutons, so if you wanted to go for a stronger garlic flavor you could get a different type of crouton, salad dressing and cheese to make that work. The onion and pepper are primarily for color.

ICA: Thanksgiving Showdown

I finally managed to catch a replay of the Iron Chef America: Thanksgiving Showdown from a week ago. The thing about Iron Chef is that I always hate the judges. They're always so pretentious. Cady Huffman annoys me not only because she spells her name stupidly, but because they believe I am supposed to be impressed if they refer to her as an actress. Her IMDB profile shows a few episodes of Law & Order and not much else. Is she related to somebody famous? If you're going to give me borderline celebrity, give me someone that probably resents the way their cookie crumbled. Give me Frank Stallone, Eric Roberts or a pre-Desperate Housewives Terri Hatcher type. Someone that needs the Iron Chef camera time to reinvigorate their career, not some goofy attention whore that is just happy to be invited back.

The judges for Thanksgiving Showdown were Tiki Barber, some food critic I don't know and Lou Diamond Philips. Possibly the least qualified panel to judge a rare 2v2 Iron Chef partner battle. Don't believe me, listen to Tiki Barber. "I like bacon", "I just keep going for the bacon" and "I'm just eating". Followed up in the second dish with the question "how did you make this?". Tiki, I don't know if you realized this but you were sitting inside Kitchen Stadium 15 feet away while they made your entire meal. What have you been doing for the last 60 minutes?

I don't know what to say about Lou Diamond Philips. He tried. He gave his best attempt to play the "acting is in my past, I'm a savvy restaurateur these days" role like Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Republican Governor's conference.

The one thing I would like to know is how I can audition to replace The Chairman? That seems like a pretty cushy job. You pace around Kitchen Stadium wearing hideous color combinations, occasionally stopping to shout the name of the secret ingredient. I wonder how much he makes.

Beer Lab

In my free time I also brew my own beer. Not in the turn my nose up at store bought beer because "the best beer is beer that was handcrafted in the Bavarian hinterlands with water from a prehistoric glacier" kind of way you seem to find with most homebrewers. I still drink Miller Light and other domestics and for the most part I try not to push my homebrews on other people. So I am not your typical homebrew guy. For me it seems to be more of a scientific fascination. I like to figure out why these ingredients make this beer taste like that or exactly how two different strains of yeast alter the taste of identical batches of wort (unfermented beer).

This weekend I made two 5-gallon batches of beer, both as Christmas gifts. I don't want to give away any secrets so thats all I'll say about who hand their hands in helping me. I'm an extract brewer that does partial boils on my stove. So I don't have any grand delusions of being a master brewer. But I do need to keep better track of what ingredients I'm using and in what amounts so I can reproduce a beer if it turns out really well. So this blog entry is as much for me as it is for anyone else.

Irish Red Ale (Brewed Nov. 21)
6 lbs - Liquid Pale Malt Extract
1 lb - Raw Honey
0.5 - Cara-pils
3 oz - Roasted Barley 300L
1oz - Amarillo Hops (60 min to boil)
1oz - Amarillo Hops (15 min to boil)
White Labs Irish Ale Yeast (WLP004)

American Amber Ale (Brewed Saturday Nov. 22)
6.3 lbs - Liquid Amber Malt Extract
1 lb - Crystal 10L
1oz - Amarillo Hops (60 min to boil)
1oz - Cascade Hops (15 mins to boil)
White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001)

Both of these brews take about 4-6 weeks until they are finished, or at least drinkable. Christmas is five weeks away so I am going to cross my fingers and tell the receivers that they'll better results if they wait until New Year's to open them up. It won't hurt them to open one on Christmas Day, but I wouldn't expect it to taste done.

I probably should have done this earlier, but five weeks early or not a gift card is a historic achievement in my career as a Christmas shopper.

Sticky Buns Defeated

Last night we used our Saturday night food experiment to revisit last weekend's sticky bun nightmare. During the week in between I got a tried and true recipe from the mother of a friend, and used that to make our dough (using all-purpose flour only).


2pk (1/4 oz. each) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 Eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/2 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ

Note: All-purpose flour can be substituted for wheat flour and germ, in roughly the same quantity--then you can skip the step of combining them in a separate bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a small bowl, stir, and let stand until soft, about 5 minutes. Reserve.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, salt, baking soda, buttermilk, and butter, and beat till smooth. Stir in reserved yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the flours and wheat germ. Then add 3 cups of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, beating until well blended. Add 2 more cups of the dry ingredients and beat until the dough just holds together. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Knead the dough again, sprinkling on the remainder of the flour mixture as needed, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes.

From this point on, we finished using Bobby Flay's filling and sticky bun goo, but that only accounted for half of the dough. The awesome thing about this dough recipe is that its versatile enough to make cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, you just need to decide for yourself how you finish once the dough has risen and has been rolled out.

These buns sticky buns are cartoonishly large, to the point that you might suspect they'd been stolen by a cartoon character from a window sill in the deep south. This recipe makes 12 rolls, so we used six last night to make sticky buns and saved six for Monday morning to make cinnamon rolls. All we'll need for that is to bake the rolls, take some softened cream cheese and mix it with a small amount of milk and confectioner's sugar to make a topping.

Thank you Rebecca and thank you Cindy for helping me out on this.

(By the way, here is the rest of that recipe:)

Punch the risen dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 15x24-inch rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Sprinkle the reserved filling over the dough, gently pressing the mixture into the dough with your fingers. Beginning with the short end, roll the dough up like a jelly roll. Slice crosswise into 12 equal pieces. Place the slices, cut side down and barely touching each other, on top of the glaze in the pan. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in bulk, about 25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the buns until golden brown on top, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan to set the glaze, about 5 minutes. Invert onto a serving tray or another baking sheet and allow the glaze to dribble down the sides. Pull apart and serve warm.


1 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried currants
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

combine all in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Reserve.


1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup [acked brown sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup small pecan halves or coarsely chopped pecans

Mac & Cheese Throwdown

Last night we had a special Wednesday edition of FoodLab. Lauren has a Thanksgiving potluck lunch at work on Friday and everyone has been asked to bring a side dish. So she thought this would be a good chance to make Delilah's 7 Cheese Mac & Cheese from Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

The recipe:

  • 2 pounds elbow macaroni
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 cup cubed Velveeta cheese
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 6 cups half-and-half, divided
  • 4 cups grated sharp yellow Cheddar, divided
  • 2 cups grated extra-sharp white Cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated Asiago
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack
  • 1 cup grated Muenster
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
The first thing we did was head to grocery store to check out these cheeses. Its a good thing I wasn't buying, because cheese is expensive. Gruyere is $8 a block. Block Asiago cheese is almost $6. Extra-sharp white cheddar was $5. You can see how this is going to turn out, and so could we. So we dumped the Gruyere, found store brand block cheese at 3-for-$5 for the sharp cheddar and monterey (pepperjack), found a small block of Muesnter for less than $4, used a bag of shredded mozzarella rather than the block. The only truly expensive cheeses we needed were the Asiago and Extra-Sharp White Cheddar.

Next we halved all of the ingredients because this was supposed to be dinner for two. In addition to that we figured out that we didn't want an egg souffle, so we used a quarter of the 12 eggs to make our half batch. Lastly we used milk instead of half-and-half, because we're not gross.

Half of that recipe filled a 13x9 baking dish to the hilt. It seemed as though it was going to be a little runny, but after baking it for an hour, the eggs did their job and firmed everything right up. In fact one more egg would have been too dry, and I probably would preferred a little more creamy balance in the cheese. So we probably need to adjust the milk or butter. I would never use 12 eggs for this recipe unless you'd rather end up with some kind of weird scrambled egg macaroni bake for dinner and breakfast. What it comes down to is that if you're used to eating Velveeta shells and cheese, this recipe isn't going to deliver a high-end version of that. This mac and cheese is more of a casserole you cut with a fork. In terms of price, if you make the original recipe you're going to end up with a $50 mac & cheese that serves 15-20 people. If you halve the recipe and catch a break on some sales, you can get two $16-20 meals that will feed a large and hungry family.

The half recipe make more than enough to feed 6 adults. I was disappointed and disgusted to see how much mac & cheese we had left last night. I'll enjoy it for lunch today and then swear off mac & cheese for a few months. This recipe is pretty good, but I can easily see why Delilah lost the Throwdown.

Saturday Night Food Lab

The last month or so this is how I've spent my Saturdays

AM: Go the YMCA
Noon or 3pm: Watch Michigan football, eat lunch
3-5pm: watch Food Network, specifically Throwdown with Bobby Flay, get dinner ideas
6pm: Go to Meijer, buy what I need to make my crazy Food Network recipe
7pm-12am: Make some crazy meal

So I have decided to call it Saturday Night Food Lab, since Lauren and I generally try to make something we've never made before. This coming Saturday should be really interesting, because boneless skinless chicken is on sale at Meijer this week ($1.99/lb!!). My preliminary guess is something like chicken cordon bleu or some other chicken dish that requires flattening chicken with a meat hammer.

But before that happens I need to share the disaster of this past Saturday night. Saturday afternoon Lauren and I watched Throwdown with Bobby Flay. In this episode he had a sticky bun battle with Joanne Chang of Boston. We thought that might be a nice thing to have either as a late night snack or for nice, easy breakfast. The sticky buns have to rise and proof for a total of about 5-7 hours, so it was best to get started early.

The recipe is not hard. Warm milk, flour, eggs, butter, vanilla, sugar, salt and yeast. Oh how I hate yeast. So we make these sticky buns about 7pm Saturday night and the first step is to add yeast and sugar to warm milk, then let it sit for 5 minutes until it gets foamy. "Foamy" isn't exactly a scientific measurement. So we stare at it, see some bubbles around the edge and a think skin on top and wonder if that is considered "foamy". We let it sit for a few more minutes and doesn't get any foamier so we decide that is probably what they mean. After all its warm milk, sugar and yeast, what is there to screw up?

We do all the other steps, add the flour and let the dough hook go to work. We set it aside and check back in hour later to see if our dough ball has doubled. Maybe? I doubt it, but I don't have a set of those calipers doctors use to pinch your body fat during a physical, so I can't really be sure. When it comes to dough, I kind of have an out of sight, out of mind attitude. Using my eyeball to determine whether or not a dough ball has increased in size just doesn't work for me.

So we proceed with the 4 hour refrigerated proofing, assemble the "goo" and pastry, cut the sticky buns and let them rise in a finished state for another hour. At this point its after midnight and I can see the writing on the wall. Even if they're any bigger than they were an hour ago, they're still not big enough. We bake them anyways and about 1:15am we sit down to a nice treat of unleavened sticky buns. Basically brown sugar syrup covered hockey pucks.

Sunday we go through all of this again, using a different packet of yeast. This time the milk/yeast/sugar mixture seemed thicker, had slight yeast bubbles on top and had been thoroughly brought to temperature and remained at the recommended temperature for activating the yeast for a full 20 minutes or so. The dough ball never rose and is still sitting its bowl this morning.

This is the third time we've struck out making some kind of yeast dependent breakfast pastry. I hate yeast. It freaks me out every time I make beer because I have to use yeast and the instructions always say that the yeast will begin fermenting within 12-15 hours but if nothing has happened within 48 hours you have a problem. However I've never once had the yeast become active within the 12-15 hour early period. It almost always takes 36-48 hours, which basically become an awful 1-2 days of me wondering if I was careless and just wasted $40 worth of beer ingredients. But even so, I've not yet had a batch of beer go bad on me because of problem with yeast, and beer takes about 6 weeks and 18 hours longer than sticky buns.

I just don't get yeast, and that bothers me even more.

Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Pie!

Saturday morning I woke up at 8:45am, drove down to the YMCA and took part in my very first spin class. It was tough, sometimes annoying and definitely challenging but overall it was a good experience. Chances are I'll go again next Saturday. The only problem I found with going to spin class (I can, and will, refer to this way as though its something I've been doing for years) is that it gives me a false sense of accomplishment. So I spend the rest of the day going *stretch* "I need to go to the grocery store, but boy am I sore from spin class. I'll just finish watching this show and then I'll go."

Well "this show" turned into the Michigan game, a small nap and then about 3 hours of Food Network. After all of that I helped Lauren get some laundry done and made plans for dinner. We've gotten in to the idea of making at least one new dinner or lunch each week or so and slowly increasing the degree of difficulty. The last new one we did was chicken salad, which was followed by a really good egg salad. This time around we settled on homemade chicken pot pie. We used Paula Dean's "Lady & Sons Chicken Pot Pie" recipe as the base and then improvised from there (changes in bold):

Did I mention we started about 9:45pm? Thanks alot spin class.

Chicken Pot Pie (Degree of Difficulty: 6)

4 sheets frozen puff pastry
2-3 cups diced chicken (cooked)
1 egg, beaten
Seasoned salt and pepper
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk

1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
1 cup frozen green peas, cooked
1 cup chopped cooked carrots
1 can (15 oz) corn
1 cup sliced mushrooms

The first step for this recipe is to take the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it sit at room temperature. For the chicken we used four thighs and one breast skinned, boned and cubed. I did a quick Italian dressing marinade before sauteing the chicken and onions in a skillet.

While I was doing that Lauren started the pie filling by melting the butter and then slowly adding flour until the mixture reached the consistency of peanut butter. When she dropped off to chop mushrooms and carrots I added the cream and milk to the butter/flour mixture. We've basically watched way too much Iron Chef America. I think secretly we both think that is what this is all building to even though we don't really have the necessary training. You'll notice later (the crust) that our timing kind of sucks.

The original recipe called for four cups of heavy cream, but we had some reservations about that amount making things too creamy. So we used half the amount and made up the difference with milk.

At this point Lauren steamed the carrots and then sauteed them in chicken stock with the mushroom and garlic for about five minutes, adding the peas and corn for the final two.

When that was finished we added the chicken and vegetables to the sauce, brought it to a high simmer and then moved on to crust. For the crust what you need to do is roll out the puff pastry, brush it with egg and butter and set it inside a pie plate or casserole dish. Place the bottom crust in your baking dish and bake it at 350 for at least 10-12 minutes (or until golden brown or flaky). The bottom crust will NOT cook substantially once you've added the filling. Add the top layer of puff pastry to cover your pie and cook for 15-20 minutes (or until golden brown).

This recipe makes enough filling for two 9 inch pies. We used an 8x8 baking dish. Any unused pie filling freezes easily, so you can store it for a future meal.

We finally finished around 10:45pm, but it was worth the wait. Overall this recipe cost us almost $40, but that includes a number of questionable and "bad luck" purchases of things we should have had but happened to be out of. Flour, $2.50 organic peas, $5 organic butter, $9 of puff pastry when we could have used two $1.50 frozen pie shells or made our own dough with the flour we just bought.

In case you were wondering, this was the highlight of my weekend. Doubly so since it started snowing last night, because that means I'm going to make the backup pie tonight or tomorrow while I lament the arrival of winter.