Pumpkin Cheesecake

When your sister requests a pumpkin cheesecake for her birthday, you are not NOT going to make a pumpkin cheesecake. Even if you don’t have the correct size springform pan. Even if you do not have a KitchenAid. If a pumpkin cheesecake in the middle of February seems wrong, I am here to tell you that there is no wrong time to make and eat a pumpkin cheesecake.

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pumpkin cheesecake and moscow mules

I had my friend Martha Stewart (just kidding, she is not actually my friend, I just used her recipe) help me out with this one, and of course there were a few tweaks made. After spending to much of my time at Whole Foods lamenting over the inability to buy individual sticks of butter, I was finally ready to start the process.

First, the crust. Not a press in crust made with store bought cookies, but a roll-out-yourself crust made from scratch and tasting faintly of sugar cookie. As in, I would make this crust into cookies and eat them.

Ingredients (for crust)

  • 6 T unsalted, softened, butter
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t vanilla (or a dash more, if you are me)
  • 1 C flour (yes, I used white AP flour)
  • dash o’ salt

Method (the original recipe instructs one to use a stand mixer. I however mixed by hand, while standing)

  • cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  • mix in egg yolk and vanilla.
  • add flour and salt and mix until the dough just comes together. flatten into a disk and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight (because of my time crunch I went for 30 minutes)

Part II.

When rolling out crust I like to do it in between 2 sheets of lightly floured wax paper. 1) it prevents a huge mess on the counter 2) it makes transferring it into a pan slightly easier.

  • lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 10″ springform pan. Preheat oven to 350.
  • in between 2 sheets of lightly floured wax paper, roll out the dough into a 10″ disk, about 1/4 of an inch thick. This should fit nicely into the bottom of your 10″ springform pan. Or, if you are me, it will fit more than nicely, with a little bit of extra going up the sides.
  • freeze the crust for 15 minutes. Then bake for 12-15 minutes until its “firm and pale golden”
  • remove from oven and let cool (completely is ideal, or nearly completely will work too)

Part III. The filling. Where the ancient electric hand held mixer begins to smoke and smell really funny.

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2 batters

Ingredients

  • 1 C pumpkin puree (I used the canned variety)
  • 1.5 t pumpkin pie spice (in retrospect, MORE)
  • 2.5 lbs cream cheese at room temp (or, if whole foods is out of CC, 2 lbs CC and .5 lb neufchatel cheese)
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 3/4 C sour cream (any ideas for what to bake with leftover sour cream?)
  • 1.5 t vanilla
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 5 eggs

Method

  • preheat oven to 325. wrap the outside of your pan with 2-3 layers of aluminum foil. this is to prevent water from seeping into the pan when you bake your cheesecake in the water bath. the water bath adds moisture in the oven and helps prevent cracks. also grease the sides of your pan once more.
  • in a small-er bowl mix pumpkin puree with spices. set aside.
  • cream the cream cheese until light and fluffy. this need not be an arduous process if you have the proper mixing equipment.
  • gradually add the sugar and flour until smooth. add the sour cream, vanilla and salt mixing until incorporated. add the eggs one at a time until just combined. be careful not to over mix. over mixing once the eggs are added introduces more air into the batter, which makes it more crack-prone once baking.
  • stir 2 C of cream cheese mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
  • pour most of the cream cheese mixture into your cake pan. use a spoon to dollop the pumpkin mixture all over. top with a few spoons of cream cheese mixture. use a butter knife to swirl everything together in figure 8 patterns. if you over-swirl, you will end up mixing everything together. you really just want the top to look pretty.
  • put the cake in a large, shallow roasting pan, and fill with 2-ish inches of boiling water. bake for 55 minutes to an hour (or more if needed) until the cake is set with a slightly wobbly center. turn off the oven and crack the door, letting the cake sit for an hour. remove from oven (at this point i removed took the cake out of the water bath and removed the foil) and chill on the counter top for another hour. you will see the cake shrink slightly away from the sides of the pan. after the hour I removed the sides of the pan and put the cake in the refrigerator for 3 hours until we sang happy birthday.

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the cake was a great success. I loved the crust so much that I may use it for pie at some point, I wish it was thicker than 1/4 inch. The cake itself was great and not overly sweet, but I would have liked more of a pumpkin flavour (yes, flavour with a ‘u’). I think more spices and perhaps more pumpkin puree would have done a nice job. In fact, some cinnamon in the crust would have been great. I’ve also got some leftover filling since my pan was small than 10″, so perhaps mini cheesecakes are on the way.

Chez Panisse

I remember my first time seeing the little house that is  Chez Panisse and how much I wanted to go there, and thinking that when I graduate that is where my family will go to dine. And then there was a fire and it shut down for several months. So much for that.

However, anniversaries being the celebratory occasions that they are, there was no better place to celebrate.

Chez Panisse opened in 1971, with the philosophy that the best food comes from the best ingredients. This was before everyone was talking about local, organic, sustainable food and so Alice Waters can be thought of as a pioneer in the ever growing “food movement” (defined however you see fit). From the beginning the restaurant served a set menu, changing daily based upon the seasons. The upstairs cafe however, offers an a la carte menu, where diners are welcome to pick from a few assorted dishes. It was in the upstairs cafe which we dined.

I have never been treated so well in a restaurant, but again, I am not one to frequent fine dining establishments. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, and I was not talked down to or made to feel ignorant when I asked questions about the wine (and which one I should get since I had absolutely no idea). The vegetarian main option for the night was a Comte Souffle with wild mushrooms, spinach, and celery root. Using this as the springboard of the night, I settled on a grapefruit, fennel and butter lettuce salad as an appetizer since the bright citrus would compliment the rich, creamy souffle.

The three ingredients in the salad, tasted as they should, drizzled in a light olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. The thin shavings of fennel were not to overpowering, and I don’t think I’ve ever had grapefruit quite as sweet and aromatic. Once appetizers were cleared, along came the main course. I’ve never eaten souffle before, and I am generally not one to opt for rich, creamy dishes. But this…was light and airy, cheesy, and slightly browned on top. There was only a touch of cream on the rim of the plate, and under the pile of spinach were a few pieces of celery root, which I think I am now obsessed with. Sweet and earthy. Of course I ate all of it.

Despite my increasing fullness, I naturally had to have some dessert. After our main course was cleared, and the crumbs swept off our table (seriously), I contemplated the dessert menu. I was to full for chocolate cake, but what caught my eye was persimmon pudding with bourbon caramel and creme chantilly. Thats right. I was so sad a few weeks ago thinking I would have to wait until next year for something persimmon-esque to come my way, but here was something! And with bourbon caramel, what could go wrong? Nothing. It was delicious and sponge-y and sweet. The slight bitterness and bite from the bourbon caramel was cooled with a dabble of creme chantilly.

It was worth every penny. Not only the delicious food, but also knowing that I was supporting a place that sources well and pays living wages. Hobbling down the stairs, belly full and happy, I wanted to turn right around and do it all over again.

*unfortunately I have no pictures. I was not about to bust out my phone mid meal. Um, rude. But instead, I offer you a picture of dinner that I made.

not chez panisse

not chez panisse

Pumpkin Trail Mix Bread

still have trail mix left over from spring break, where I was responsible for feeding a group of 12 people for a week. Something had to be done with the trail mix, so why not bake it into pumpkin bread. Pumpkin bread is most definitely appropriate to eat during the month of May, despite what people tell you about its being an autumn food.

This recipe comes from here (hell yeah its vegan). But since I don’t have maple syrup (always extraordinarily expensive) I used agave. And since I didn’t have brown sugar, I used regular sugar combined with a tablespoon of molasses. Also, instead of boring old walnuts, I threw in said trail mix. The salty peanuts and chocolate chips worked very well in this bread. I think I am going to start making trail mix everything bread (banana, pumpkin, zucchini, etc). Its kind of like those “kitchen sink” cookies. But maybe not quite as kitchen sink-y. Anyways…

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Ingredients: (for 1 loaf)

  • 1 C AP flour
  • 3/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 T molasses
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 0.5 t baking powder
  • 0,5 t salt
  • 0.5 t nutmeg
  • 0.5 t cinnamon
  • 0.5 t allspice
  • 0.25 t cloves
  • 1 C pumpkin puree
  • 0.5 C oil
  • 3 T agave
  • 3 T almond milk
  • a generous 0.5 C trail mix (consisting of almonds, peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, and date pieces)

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Method

  • preheat the oven to 350 and grease a loaf pan
  • In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices
  • In a smaller bowl, mix together the wet ingredients: pumpkin, oil, agave, and almond milk
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine until moistened. Don’t over mix or overwork the dough; it will be thick and its OK if a few tufts of flour remain (just not huge clumps)
  • fold in the trail mix, again taking care not to over mix. Over working the dough causes to much gluten to form and will yield a chewy loaf instead of one with a delicate crumb
  • Pour the dough into the loaf pan and flatten out with a spoon. Lick the bowl clean
  • bake for 45-50 minutes until an object (knife of toothpick) inserted into the middle comes out clean
  • Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then loosen the loaf and finish cooling on a rack. Its yummy warm with melty chocolate chips, and is a great snack the next day too

No Longer a Student. And Spiced Molasses Chocolate Chip Cookies.

One day and one week ago I walked across the stage at Memorial Stadium in the clusterf*ck that was General Commencement. 6 days ago I walked across the stage at Zellerbach Hall in the well organized Sociology Commencement.

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I don’t think it ever quite “hit” me that I go to the best public school in the country, and then, whoa its graduation?! I am no longer a student; that piece of my identity has, for the time being ended. Of course this does not mean I stop learning and reading. In fact, I feel that most of my learning at Berkeley has taken place outside of the academic classroom, be it through friends or extracurricular activities. And, since I will keep reading about things I like, I can continue to build up my knowledge base until I go back to school in a couple of years from now. This is a strange, liminal, in between stage of my life at the moment. I have summer work, and then…ummm….uhhh…what do I do? That is the next adventure which awaits I suppose.

A while ago, when I was feeling nervous and uncertain and a little bit “empty”, someone asked me: “if there was a hole in the ground, and you had to fill it, what would you use?”. Well, dirt obviously. “Dirt, why dirt?” ummmmm…”Dirt because you have to fill the hole with the same stuff that it is made of” And so, over the past few years I have been filling up my empty with the same stuff that I am made of. And I am no where near complete, and I will continue to figure out what substance my dirt is made of.

I can list a few things. I am made up of sugar and flour and chocolate and butter because I like to bake. I filled with fresh fruit and vegetables because I am vegetarian and I value sustainable and ethical eating choices. I am made up of my bike because I like to go exploring the city on my bike. I am made up of adventures and excursions because I like seeing new things and new places. I am made up of words and sentences because I like to read and write (I suppose). I am made up of values and morals, because I think about the lives of others whether immediately in my life, or somewhere far off making the things I use. I am made of lots of questions and some answers and compassion. I am made up of laziness and tiredness because sometimes I like to take the easy way out. I am made up of some insecurities that sometimes make me jealous of other people. I am made up of all the people I have met these past two years, and years before that, because the self is shaped by others.

It is scary having this gaping hole of “time” now that I am done with school, and this hole will be sometimes empty and sometimes full. I don’t like the empty because it feels insecure, unsteady, unsettling. I don’t really know what I would like to do, which is the biggest gaping part of said hole. And, it is my choices that will determine what, exactly, gets to fill it.

And now, cookies.

My parental unit arrived on a Friday night, and like a good daughter, I wanted to serve them tea and cookies. And so, cookie making on a late friday night it was. (Bonus, they were still warm when my parents got here).

I settled on chocolate chip molasses cookies that I adapted from Averie Cooks. I made these over winter, they turned out delicious in my opinion, yet too chocolatey and too sweet in my parents opinion. So the following version omits some sugar and some chocolate. Admittedly, the following version allows the spices and molasses flavors to shine through, instead of being smothered by chocolate, which was very nice. I also used “heaping teaspoons” for the spices because, well, I love those warm, cinnamon-y spices. I also apologize for the poor quality photos; crappy kitchen lighting+crappy camera=crappy quality.

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter. melted.
  • 1 egg. (preferably from the farmers market 😉
  • 1 cup sugar (fair trade, organic)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 T oil (I used applesauce instead because I had a bit sitting around)
  • 1/5 t vanilla
  • 1 t cocoa powder
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1.5 t ground ginger
  • 1 t cloves
  • .5 t salt
  • 2 1/4- 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/5 t baking soda
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • Coating: 1/4 c sugar, 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves

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Method (for about 18 cookies)

  • After you melt the butter, allow it to cool slightly before adding in the egg. Otherwise, you will get scrambled egg cookies. So, add the egg, sugar, molasses, oil, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon ginger, cloves, and salt. whisk ’til smooth.
  • add the flour and baking soda. stir to incorporate. Start off with 2 14 c flour and add a little more if needed (depends on the type of flour and on weather). I used half white and half white whole wheat flour, so I stayed at around 2 1/4. The batter will, and should, be thick, but pliable.
  • add the chocolate chips, and stir to just incorporate. roll the dough into a ball, wrap it with wax paper, or just cover the bowl with a towel and refrigerate for 2 hours. Or, up to 5 days. (If you plan to store it for more than a few hours, I would recommend storing in an airtight container)
  • when you are ready to bake: preheat the oven to 350. grease your cookie sheets!
  • make your coating in a small bowl by stirring the sugar and the spices. get the batter out of the fridge.
  • use your hands (or a scooper) to make walnut sized balls and roll them around in the sugar coating.
  • place them on the tray about 2 inches apart and flatten them slightly (not all the way though. they should bake slightly domed up)
  • bake for 8-9 minutes. It is important to NOT over bake because you want that nice, chewy texture. I usually just do 8 minutes since the cookies continue to bake a little once out of the oven, and they will harden as they cool
  • Once you pull them out of the oven, use the back of a spoon to tap the cookies flat. This will also crinkle the top of them, which looks pretty.

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Liking the bowl was delicious. And, my parents approved. Success.

The Cheese Board

I’m not a frequent consumer of pizza or cheese because of its generally suspicious place of origin. However, on occasion, I do like to spend some $$ on a hunk of cheese from a reliable source. I was probably a little to excited for the adventure to the Cheese Board Collective in the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley. I have been to Cheese Board before, yes. It was to indulge in soft chewy rolls, or sweet and succulent muffins of sorts. I have also bought small bits of cheese from the bin of rejects that are to small and sad looking to sell at a full price. But being in Berkeley for 2 years and not ever having the pizza is not the least bit acceptable.

The pizza collective rotates between different pizza’s everyday, and the weekly menu is posted on-line, well, each week. Pizzas are always vegetarian (win!) with ingredients coming from places nearby, so its seasonal too. Only having one type of pizza means that when you get your slices, they are extraordinarily oven fresh. Like, you have to wait a moment to take that first bite, which can be torturous. But never fear, since mini pieces line your plate, and these mini pieces are from an older pie which is at good eating temperature.

Being very excited, I took out the surprise factor and looked up the flavor online. It just increased my anticipation because it included 2 types of mushrooms, and mushrooms are one of my favorite things. Here was the daily flavor:

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We got there relatively early (5PM on a Saturday) which meant that the line was short. Not that a long line would have detracted this excursion. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people go somewhere expecting to wait in line, and then complain about the line. Solution: don’t go there? Waiting in line for places like Ici or Cheese Board, or a select Food Truck is part of the experience. You get to people watch and you might make a friend or two while you wait. The Cheese Board also has live music more often than not, which makes waiting in line a pleasurable experience. Within 10 minutes we were at the register ordering 1/2 a pizza with the intention to have leftovers for the next day. Yeah right…

It was delicious. The crust was chewy enough, yet not to bread-y and thick, which tends to ball up in your throat as you swallow it. The mushrooms and 2 types of cheese were complimentary to each other. The asparagus was a reminder of spring. My one gripe however, was the excessive oil that seemed to emanate from the pizza. Not so much the natural oils that come from the cheese, but the excess garlic oil that was drizzled on top. In addition to pizza, they’ve also got beer, bubbly drinks, cookies, and some sauces. As you can see, beer was purchased, but cookies were not.

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Perhaps next time cookies will be purchased, since there will definitely be a next time. I want to try some of the more unique varieties of pizza they concoct, I’ve heard rumors about sweet potatoes and squash and corn, amongst other toppings.

Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

I am going to see my friend’s performance tonight, and it would be quite rude to show up empty handed, especially since the tickets were generously given to me for free. Flowers would be nice, but to generic. Said friend is a chocoholic and a vegan, and so I thought making something chocolatey would be nice.

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I also woke up today with excruciating neck pain due to a spasm that I had overnight, apparently. I vaguely remember waking up and possibly hearing something strange from my neck/shoulder area and feeling it do something strange. In other words, the mobility in my neck has been reduced to nearly nothing. So, I needed a recipe that was a) yummy and b) minimally laborious. Enter peanut butter cups which require only melting chocolate, mixing up peanut butter with sugar, and piecing it together.

 

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A quick google search yields loads of recipes and most follow the same basic pattern, which I will explain below. I based mine on this recipe, with a few additions such as cinnamon and vanilla and coconut oil.

DSCN3081Ingredients (for 12 PB cups, but I halved it to make 6 PB cups)

  • 12 oz vegan chocolate chips (+/- some depending on how thick you make your chocolate layer)
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 1 C natural unsalted peanut butter
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • pinch o’ salt
  • dash vanilla
  • dash cinnamon
  • cupcake liners and a cupcake pan

Method

  • line a cupcake pan with the liners. I had aluminum ones on hand and they worked fine. I am pretty sure paper ones would be great too.
  • Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler. Once melted, stir in salt and coconut oil.
  • Coat the bottom of each liner with chocolate. I would say about a spoonful of chocolate in each one. Spread it out with a spoon and shake the muffin pan to get it evenly distributed on the bottom. Once all 12 are coated, stick it in the freezer.
  • While the chocolate is hardening, in a bowl mix together peanut butter, powdered sugar and a dash of cinnamon–maybe 1/4 teaspoon. Or more, if you, like myself, like the cinnamon chocolate PB combo. This will soon become thick, which is what you want.
  • Once the sugar has been mixed in, use your hands to roll balls of peanut butter and then flatten them into disc shapes. Get your chocolate from the freezer and place the disk-shaped PB on top (see the photo above)
  • The final step is dribbling the rest of the chocolate over the PB as a final layer. (You may need to remelt your chocolate to make it easier to spread. And if you run out of chocolate, never fear, just melt more) Use a spoon to drop spoonfuls on top of the PB, and again shake the muffin tin to evenly spread it out. Put it in the refrigerator to harden. Lick the bowl.
  • When eaten at room temp, the chocolate is nice and melty, which is very delicious. So take them out of the refrigerator a few minutes before you plan to consume. Alternatively, you could eat them frozen, which is good too.

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Strawberry Oat Bars

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The last day of my senior seminar consisted of presentations and food. My project was a map of fruit trees and convenience stores along Telegraph Ave. Here is a snippet:

Given the initial inspiration from LA based Fallen Fruit, our map focused on the blurred boundaries between public and private space through comparing fruit trees and convenience stores. Our data for convenience store locations came from driving along Telegraph. Conversely, our data for fruit trees came from publicly created and shared maps that reveal the whereabouts edible sustenance.

The layers on our map are an attempt to portray the city as an orchard. Peeling back the top layer, all you see is a multitude of trees (and stores). Without streets to directionally guide you, you are left lost between an edible, urban forest. Furthermore, the color scheme mimics a tree and mirrors where most of the bounty is concentrated.

If we reimagine public space as a space that can provide food, it might be part of a solution to creating a more equitable food system where fresh produce is accessible to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. It would also be beneficial to residents that live in environmentally degraded areas because of the ecosystem services that trees provide. Fruit would be just a few blocks away, and free for picking. Trees could be taken care of by the community, and provide nourishment for anyone who wanders through.

The food we brought in, ideally, was to be related to our project (props to those that talked about bars and public intoxication and brought in beer for all. I think all seminar presentations should include libations since they take the nervous edge off). So naturally, fruit (not beer) fit in with our project. However, bringing in just fruit would have been boring and of course I wanted to incorporate fruit into a baked delicacy. I was planning to make Peach Crumble Bars, but strawberries (weekly special) were a good deal cheaper than peaches. Therefore, I settled on Strawberry Crumble Oat Bars instead. It seems that any fruit would work in a bar form, but the spice combination would probably have to change. For instance, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc would not pair well with tart berries (or would they…?)

I adapted this recipe from Smells Like Home but I found that this makes more than 9-12 bars. Unless they are huuuge bars. I also added oats to the final crumb topping, which are not included in that recipe. And instead of using 1 C of butter, I used 1/2 C butter and 1/2 C coconut oil. And I added a spoonful of Vanilla to the strawberry mixture!

Ingredients

  • 1.5 C sugar, will be divided 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 C AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • lemon zest from 1 lemon (or a bit more)
  • 1/2 C butter, cut in pieces
  • 1/2 C coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cups strawberries, sliced. Better yet, get someone else to do the tedious, labor intensive slicing for you
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • lemon juice from the above lemon (or a bit more)
  • 1/2 cup oats

Method

  • 375 degrees for the oven. 9×13 inch pan should be greased
  • In a bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar with the baking powder, flour, salt, and lemon zest. Mix it with a fork. Inhale, because it smells really good.
  • Add the butter and coconut oil, and the egg and use your hands to break up the fats until you are left with what looks like course crumbs.
  • Press-in slightly more than half of said “crumbs” onto the bottom of your pan.
  • In another bowl, combine rest of your sugar (thats 1/2 cup) with the lemon juice, cornstarch and vanilla. Add the strawberries and stir well. Make sure the cornstarch isn’t clumpy.
  • Spread the strawberries on top of layer 1 in the pan. I did not use whatever juices appeared in the bottom of my bowl.
  • Add the oats to your remaining crumb mixture, and stir well. You could also add a touch of vanilla if you want.
  • Sprinkle the oaty goodness on top of the strawberries.
  • Bake for 45 minutes–should be slightly golden on top. Your house will smell amazing. You may want to let it cool before slicing so that the bars don’t fall apart. They are delicious if still slightly warm, and a bit of ice cream might go a long way.

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