Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake, Baked Potatoes and a post-Thanksgiving review

Weep. Weep. Sniffle. Sniffle. I thought I was going to be able to prep, cook and post my holiday recipes as I was making them. But that just didn't happen. I was lucky to get everything into the oven!  It's possible that I over-extended myself (you know, since there's a toddler and infant in tow), but I'm happy to report that I was able to make everything I set out to make.* I also tried new recipes.  That caused some trepidation; it's much more comforting to present dishes that you've made a million times because you can vouch for their deliciousness.  But I really wanted to emerge from my comfort zone and try a new dessert and a new side dish.  
So, I started cooking the night before Thanksgiving after the kids went to sleep. I decided to make a pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap and hazelnut crust. Hello! I'd seen it in Saveur magazine in a feature on vegetarian Thanksgivings (!).  The cake took a while to make, but it was worth it.  It's decadent and rich (and definitely not for the lactose intolerant).  It felt much more holiday appropriate than the standard Upstate Cheesecake I typically make.  Going with the pumpkin version was the right thing to do. 
Thanksgiving Day was warm with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees here in Denver.  Crazy, right? We went over to our friend's new home (in historic Washington Park) to celebrate.  We were really happy to be included because our families are back in New York (having their get-together which includes 'Turkey Parts'- but that's a story for another time).  Our hosts were taking care of the bird.
Since I don't eat turkey and I wasn't sure how well a giant Tofurkey (with gravy on the side!) would go over with the crowd, I settled on Heidi Swanson's Wild Rice Casserole.  It's easy to make and it's a real crowd pleaser.  I also adapted a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Baked Potatoes with Bread Crumbs and Parmesan Crust.  I liked the potatoes and would definitely make them again.  (Note: you must add a lot of salt to the dish or else it will be bland and flat).  Of course since this is the holiday season, a few tablespoons of cream seemed like an appropriate addition too!
Our friends made some great food: a wonderful-tart cranberry dish, a very yummy spinach casserole, stuffing (vegetarian and from the bird) and a pumpkin pie.  We all had a great time and Otis loved playing with his friends.  Otis also went nuts over the electric Thomas the Train track set that was in the house...which he's been talking about ever since...
Hope you all had a great holiday! 

* Well, almost everything made it.  I did suffer two altitude-related causalities: curried deviled eggs never boiled right and the caramel in my tart got a little scorched (still very edible) because the boiling point here is something I'm still getting used too.  That said, I am getting the hang of it! 
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap and Hazelnut Crust 
Serves 12-14
Ingredients for the Crust: 
1¼ cups (about 8 oz.) finely ground gingersnap cookie crumbs
¾ cup finely ground hazelnuts
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
For the topping: 
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 16-oz. container sour cream
For the filling:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground ginger
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
⅓ cup maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree


1. Make the crust: Heat oven to 325°. Wrap the outside of a 9" springform pan with foil and set aside. Combine gingersnap crumbs, hazelnuts, butter, and brown sugar in a food processor, and process until evenly combined. Transfer to pan and press evenly into bottom and halfway up side; bake until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool and set aside.
2. Make the topping: Whisk together sugar, vanilla, and sour cream in a medium bowl until smooth; set aside.
3. Make the filling: Set a kettle of water to boil. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until evenly incorporated. Add cream, syrup, vanilla, and pumpkin, and mix until smooth. Pour filling over crust and place springform pan into a large roasting pan; pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come halfway up side of spring-form pan. Bake until filling jiggles slightly in the center when the pan is tapped on the side, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
4. Pour sour cream topping over filling and gently smooth top; continue baking for 5 minutes. Remove springform pan from water bath and let cool completely to room temperature. Chill until set, at least 4 hours or overnight, before serving.

* * *
Baked Potatoes with Bread Crumb-Parmesan Crust (Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)
6 to 8 servings
1 tablespoon butter
5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (You really have to add a lot of salt and pepper. There are the only 2 spices in this recipe, so don't be shy. Taste as you go.)
3 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoon heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish (I used a large circular pan) with 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.
Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until they are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; return the potatoes to the same pot and mash well. Mix in the milk and melted butter. Mix in the mozzarella and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan. Season, to taste, with salt (a lot) and pepper. Transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking dish. Stir the bread crumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the mashed potatoes. Add two tablespoons of heavy cream.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.  If it doesn't have flavor now, it's not going to have it when it's finished baking!  Recipe can be prepared up to this point 6 hours ahead of time; cover and chill.
Bake, covered for 10 minutes. Then bake an additional 10 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.
And the Wild Rice Casserole.  Click here for recipe. 
And the ever popular and very fabulous Chocolate Caramel Tart from Marlow & Sons. Click here for recipe.  (Note: I took this picture in Brooklyn- the first time I made this pie.  The caramel was runny and gooey.  Not so when I made the same tart in Denver.  It suffered from an altitude sickness and the caramel got a bit burnt and the crust was a bit dry. Not to worry. I will correct my mistakes and make it again in the Mile-High City!) 
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