Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spiced pecan pie cheesecake with GF graham cracker crust

So, this recipe is actually three different recipes that I integrated together.  Since I've been so heavily focused on my dissertation for the past few months, I haven't baked anything in quite awhile, so I was excited to give it a try and make this dessert for Christmas dinner with friends.  

Finding the gluten-free graham crackers was a Christmas miracle.  I tried to find them in the gluten-free section of the usual grocery store on Christmas eve; not only was the store was a complete madhouse, but I couldn't find any GF graham crackers or even ginger snaps there.  So, I rushed over to the health food store and arrived at 3:55 pm.  They were closing early and the sign said that they'd be open until 4 pm, but the door was already locked.  Lucky for me, one of the employees was sitting in her car getting ready to depart.  She asked me what I needed, knocked on the door until they opened back up, and asked if they had counted the till yet.  Since they were just getting ready to count the till, they let me in and sold me a box of GF graham crackers.

On Christmas Day, my friend Emily hosted a fantastic celebration Goldstream-style with lots of delicious food, libations, and a full night of games!

It was a bit of a gamble to bring this to Emily's since I had never tried to make it before, but it turned out pretty darn good.  It is incredibly rich and can really use a bit of coffee to go with it...

Spiced pecan pie cheesecake with GF graham cracker crust


1 1/2 c gluten-free graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c sugar
6 tbsp butter

cheesecake filling
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
pecan pie topping
2 cups pecans 
2 eggs
1/2 c sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg  



Cut the butter into small piece and melt.  Crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs.  I usually stick them in a plastic bag and crush them with the back of a cup.  Mix together the butter, graham cracker crumbs, and sugar.

Press the crust into the bottom of a springform pan and bake at 375° F for 7 minutes.  Since I always seems to have butter melting out of the bottom of my springform pan and dripping down on the oven's heating element (perhaps a consequence of picking it up at a garage scale years ago), I always place it on a cookie tray covered in aluminum foil when I stick it in the oven. Then to cool the crust down after it comes out of the oven, I stuck it outside on top of the snow... 

cheesecake filling

Blend together the cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth.

Pour on top of the graham cracker crust,

and spread the cheesecake filling evenly.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F and bake for 15 minutes.

pecan pie topping

Whisk together the 2 eggs and sugar.

Mix together the cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Mix in the light corn syrup, melted butter, vanilla extract, salt, and spices.

Whisk until well blended and smooth.

If the pecans are not already toasted, spread them in a pan (I like to use parchment paper to line the pan) and bake at 350° F for 5-8 minutes.  Watch them carefully so they don't burn!

Spread the toasted pecans over the cooked cream cheese filling layer, and then drizzle the spice mixture over the pecans.  Bake 350° F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center sets.

Cool before serving!

Southwest Corn Chowder

Sometimes I meet really neat people and I think to myself... "Wow, I totally want to be friends with them."  Such was the case when I met Jessica and Bryan. 

And since I wanted to hang out with them and I had been hungry for this corn chowder for awhile, I invited them over for dinner... They gladly obliged and brought the wine.

With this recipe, I used the oregano-infused olive oil that I made with the oregano from my garden this summer.  Basically, I just filled a glass jar with fresh oregano and crush garlic cloves, filled it with olive oil, and then patiently let the flavors meld.

Southwest Corn Chowder

olive oil
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 onion
2 cans of corn
1 New Mexico green chili pepper
1 Poblano pepper
~3 cups water or (vegetable or chicken stock)
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
2-3 small potatoes
1/2 of a red and orange bell pepper, each
1 tbsp lime juice
2 c heavy cream (or half & half)
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh cilantro (for garnish)
plain yogurt or sour cream (for garnish)

Chop the onion and garlic.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot.  Add the garlic, onion and 1 1/2 cans of corn (set aside the last bit of corn to be added later).

Cook until the onions become translucent.

Remove the seeds and chop the New Mexican green chili and Poblano peppers.

Add the chopped peppers, oregano, and cumin to the pot.

Add enough water (or vegetable or chicken broth) to cover the mixture, approximately 3 cups or so. Simmer for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, dice the small potatoes and bell peppers, seeds removed.  In a separate pot, bring some water to a boil and boil the diced potatoes for 2 minutes.

Add the diced bell peppers and boil for an additional 2 minutes. Then, drain the water off the potatoes and peppers.

Using a hand blender (or regular blender), purée the soup.

Stir in the lime juice.

Stir in the heavy cream (or half & half).

Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Add in the remaining corn, potatoes, and bell peppers.

Serve with cilantro and plain yogurt (or sour cream).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Paying it forward (with spring rolls and red curry)


Just after New Year's Day, Facebook usually has a number of people posting this "Pay It Forward" message:

"I promise to send (or deliver) something handmade to the 1st 5 people who leave a comment. They must in turn post this and send something they made to the 1st 5 people who comment on their status. The rules are that it must be handmade by you and it must be sent to your 5 people sometime this year. You don't get to specify what I send you."

I posted this a few years ago, had five friends sign up, and then completely forgot about it.  I tried it again this year and had a number of friends sign up for it.  Since I've never been the exclusive type and love to give presents, I was looking forward to the challenge of making handmade item for friends.  To make sure that I didn't blow it off again this year, I put a list with everyone's names on my door, so I had to look at it constantly.  Slowly I've been crossing off name, usually by handing over a bowl or mug that I've made.  It's getting close to the end of the year and I've only got a few names left to cross off.  I still need to figure out what I can send to Marie that will make it all the way to France without breaking...  

Since both April and Shea signed up, I thought it would be more fun to make them dinner.  With everybody's busy lives, it's difficult to schedule in a Girls Night now and then.  We originally tried to schedule this back in February and March, but here it is November, and we finally found a night when all three of us are free.  Like many new moms, April has had to cut a number of things out of her diet since her daughter Khloé was born, so I was tasked with preparing a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free meal.  So, I thought Thai food... fresh rolls, red curry with chicken, stir-fried vegetables, and jasmine rice.

In order to find some of the ingredients such as the Kaffir lime leaves for the curry, I had to head to the Asian food market in town.  It's always a fun adventure to browse all the interesting things you find there.  But then sometimes I buy things on a whim and am never really quite sure what to do with them...

It seems a bit random, but for a fairly small and somewhat isolated town that has an extensively long and cold winter, Fairbanks has a decent size Thai community.  We probably have at least 10 Thai restaurants when the whole Fairbanks North Star Borough (approximately the size of Rhode Island) only has around 100,000 residents.

Fresh Rolls

rice spring roll wrappers
mung bean noodles
cabbage, slivered
carrots, grated
bell pepper-- yellow, red, or orange, sliced into sticks
(I usually also throw cucumbers into these as well, but forgot to pick one up at the store)

Drop the mung bean noodles into boiling water for a minute or so.  They soften up quite quickly!

Arrange all the chopped, diced, and grated ingredients before beginning to roll the fresh rolls.

Heat water until just below boiling and place one of the wrappers in the water to soften it.  It only takes a few seconds and if you leave the wrapper in too long, it starts to get a bit mushy and tears super easily.  I like to have the water in a pan so when it cools, I just heat it back up on the stove.

After pulling the wrapper out of the water, add a small amount of noodles and all the different veggies to the middle of the wrapper.  Be careful not to add to much otherwise they'll be hard to roll.
Roll by folding in one side, then the two ends, and finally rolling to close.

Place the fresh rolls on a plate and serve with sweet chili sauce with chopped peanuts.

Red curry with chicken

can of coconut milk
~1 tbsp red curry paste
1/2 cup of water
1 chicken breast
1/2 tsp salt 
Kaffir lime leaves
bell pepper

Empty the can of coconut milk into a pot over, and heat over medium high heat on the stove.  Depending on how spicy you want your curry, add 1-2 tbsp of red curry paste to the coconut milk and stir.  When the curry paste is dissolved in the coconut milk, add in the 1/2 cup of water.  Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Add the salt.

Tear up a few Kaffir lime leaves and add to the pot.

Add a few shredded basil leaves.  Just before serving, top with a few thin slices of bell pepper.

Stir-fried vegetables

olive oil
ginger, 3-5 cloves, minced
garlic, a thumb-sized chunk, minced
sesame oil
zucchini, broccoli, sweet onions, carrots, green onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms

Heat ~ 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When hot, add minced garlic and ginger.  When the garlic starts to get crunchy, drizzle ~ 1 tbsp of sesame oil over the garlic and ginger.  Add all of the veggies, stir, and cook until they're browned but still has some crispness to them.

Serve the vegetable and curry with some jasmine rice.

A good night with friends! And since everything was gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free, April could eat the whole meal.

I thought about making a mango sorbet for desert but then decided to leave that up to Häagen-Dazs.