Category: Christmas


Good grief, it’s been almost a year.ย A year!!ย SO MUCH has happened in that year, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to come back. I’ve wanted to, but it just hasn’t been in the cards until now. I wasn’t sure if anyone would even care at this point if I came back. But I’ve heard from a few loyal readers (I have loyal readers! I had no idea!) and they’re asking for more. That is so incredibly gratifying, you guys. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I’ve always said that if my blog helps one person enjoy food a little more, I’ll keep going. So here I am, in the kitchen again, with recipes to share. I have some truly amazing food to show you, starting next week ๐Ÿ™‚

Advertisements

This week’s recipe is rather a show stopper. Especially when you tell people what it is. I have to smile at people’s reactions when I tell them I’ve made a FIVE POUND apple pie. There’s always the stop-to-make-sure-they-heard-that-right face and then the “Wow!” as they let it sink in. I have fun “wowing” people with my food ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes; a full 5 pounds of apples go into this pie. It’s my special pie. The one I make when I want to perform a true culinary labor of love for someone. This pie takes the better part of half a day to make- more if you make the pie crust yourself. DO NOT let that put you off! The majority of that time is cooking, cooling, and baking time. Making the pie is really easy; it’s just that the preparation takes time. But sometimes the very best things take a lot of time…

Start with a whole bunch of apples and a few other ingredients:

IMG_20151117_103453577

Now, the original recipe that this idea came from had a whole convoluted list of steps- most of them unnecessary. I’m not sure if the lady was just trying to make it sound like she was positively slaving away over the pie to get a pat on the back or if she really, truly thought that making a pie had to be that difficult. People tend to think that pie making is complicated, but it really isn’t. In fact, a pie is one of the very simplest things to bake. There’s no raising of dough or tiptoeing around the house because ย you don’t want what’s in the oven to fall. You make the filling, make the crust if you don’t want to buy one (another process that’s touted as difficult, but that’s another post), put the former into the latter, and bake until done. So, while this particular recipe has a couple of extra steps compared to a “regular” apple pie, I’ve simplified this process to be as easy as it can get. In that vein, let’s get started!

The first step is peeling, coring, and slicing the apples. Make sure you have a big bowl of acidulated water for your apples to go into so they don’t rust (turn brown). All that means is water with acid in it. If you have lemon juice, use that. Orange or lime juice works too. If you don’t have any of those, you can use apple cider vinegar. For 2 liters of water use a tablespoon of whichever acid you happen to have on hand. So, I peeled and cored my apples- cutting them into halves so I could use a melon baller to cut the core out…

IMG_20151117_110225080

But I totally cheated with the slicing part. I’ve wanted a food processor for YEARS. As in, since I left home at 19. I’m 36 as of this writing. So when I found an insanely wonderful deal on the food processor I’ve wanted since I first saw it, I went to my husband and asked pretty please. Being the wonderful man and biggest fan of my food that he is, he said yes! So today, for the first time, I used my beautiful, brand new Kitchenaid food processor!

IMG_20151117_111343812

That is absolutely a dream come true. Yes; I’m a food nerd. I accept that. ๐Ÿ™‚

So now that the apples are sliced and ready, the hardest part of making the filling is over! Drain the apples well and put the whole batch into a frying pan or pot big enough to hold them along with the butter, sugar, and spices.

IMG_20151117_112254250

Cook them until they are just beginning to soften. You want them to have plenty of crunch left, but they should be partially cooked.

IMG_20151117_113335292

Once the apples are cooked enough, turn off the heat and take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon. Make sure you drain as much of the liquid off of them as you can. Put the apples slices into a colander over a bowl (or, in my case, the pasta insert that goes into my stock pot) and set it aside while we deal with the leavings in the pan.

IMG_20151117_113745104

We’re going to cook this down into what amounts to caramel. Don’t panic; this step is very easy, it just takes some time.ย Turn the burner back on and bring the apple liquid to a fast boil.

IMG_20151117_120027130

Give this a stir every couple of minutes and continue to cook at a fast boil until the liquid begins to thicken. Check the bowl that the apples are over a couple of times to add any more collected liquid into the pan. Thickening the liquid can take upwards of 8-10 minutes. Just keep an eye on it.

This isย pretty much there:

IMG_20151117_120030404

At this point you should stay with the pan, stirring continuously. Lower the heat a bit so that you get a steady boil instead of a fast boil. You’re looking for larger bubbles that are a little slower to pop. Keep cooking and stirring until you end up with the consistency of the caramel topping you would put over ice cream.

Now you can turn the heat off (so the caramel doesn’t burn) and add the vanilla and heavy cream…

IMG_20151117_120216710

Turn the heat back up to medium low and boil the caramel until it’s nice and thick again. You should be able to scrape the spoon along the bottom of the pan and leave a nice clean path:

IMG_20151117_120444840

Add the apples back into the pan and discard any liquid that may have accumulated in the bowl under them. Stir the apples to coat them in the caramel and let the pan sit until the apples are at room temperature. You’ll need to stir them every 4 or 5 minutes to keep the cooling process going. You’ll notice that the apples have quite a bit of liquid in them again and that’s ok. We can fix that:

IMG_20151117_122356142Cornstarch to the rescue! Once the apples are at room temperature, sprinkle them with 3-4 tablespooons of cornstarch. Stir the apples well to mix the cornstarch into the liquid and you’re set! The sauce will be very cloudy, but that will clear up once it’s cooked.

IMG_20151117_122444506

Do not, I repeat: DO NOT try to add the cornstarch while the apples are hot!! Anyone who has tried to make gravy by adding cornstarch directly to the hot drippings and broth can tell you that doing so will only end in gluey lumps of cornstarch. So do yourself a favor and wait until the apples are cooled to add the cornstarch.

Before the pie is assembled, mix up the egg wash. This is what you’ll brush over the top of the pie to give it that nice, shiny top crust that you find in restaurants. You can mix the egg with a tablespoon of water, but using heavy cream instead will give you a slightly thicker, and much richer wash. Take my advice: use the cream.

IMG_20151117_123111928

Mix the cream and the egg VERY well; you don’t want streaks of egg white on top of your pie.

Now put your bottom crust in your pie pan and add the apples to it. I like to mound them slightly in the middle; it gives the pie a very classic shape and, since the apples are already cooked, you don’t have to worry about them getting cooked all the way through or the apples shrinking as the pie bakes, leaving a disappointing hollow cavern under the crust.

IMG_20151117_123432197

Take your top crust and put it over the pie pan, crimping the edges to seal the top and bottom crust together.

IMG_20151117_123708035

I do a simple roll under and crimp, but if you want to do something fancier, have at it. The pie will be all the more impressive for it!

The next step is to brush on the egg wash. You don’t want it pooling all over the place, but do brush the egg wash on with a fairly heavy hand.

IMG_20151117_123901342

With a sharp knife, cut some vents into the top. You could cut shapes, but I stick with simple, classic slits. Just make sure you vent the pie somehow, or the top crust won’t survive and the steam won’t be able to escape and you’ll have runny filling.

Wrap the edges of the pie with aluminum foil or put a pie shield on it and into the oven it goes at 400 degrees. My pies usually take a total of 70-80 minutes, but that will vary by oven. After the first 40 minutes, check the pie. It should still be fairly light but beginning to brown. Go ahead and uncover the edges and continue baking it. At the one hour mark check it again. It should be browning well now and you should be getting a little bit of bubbling from the filling. For the pie to be done, it needs to be uniformly browned and the filling needs to boil for at least 10 minutes.

IMG_20151117_140336760

Isn’t that a beautiful color?! That deep, rich, glossy color comes from the egg wash. The crust would be dull and pale without it- not unlike the pre-egg wash photo above. My crust buckled a bit, though, and I can tell you why: I made the mistake of making the top crust too tight. I know; it sounds funny, but it’s true. I didn’t make sure the middle had enough dough before crimping the outside. I should have laid my crust over the top, run my hands over the mound in the middle, and then crimped the edge. The crust shrank as it baked (naturally), so it separated. It really doesn’t matter though; I’m not entering it into a beauty contest and the taste far outweighs any homeliness the pie may posses!

IMG_20151117_174134011

This is not a super sweet, gloopy, apple-esqe flavored pie. The sauce to fruit ratio is very nearly perfect and the flavor is absolutely, without a doubt APPLE. At least 95% of the filling you see above is actual, honest to God fruit- not some fruit flavored, sugary gel with a few pieces of apple in it. This is a prime example of everything an apple pie should be. And once you’ve tasted it, you may never want a piece of any other kind of apple pie again. And that’s ok; you know how to make your own now! So go ahead; make this pie and wow your family and friends. I think you’ll find it just as fun as I do ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Recipe:

5 Lbs Apples (Honeycrisp or similar firm fleshed, sweet-tart apple)

6 T Butter (salted is preferred, but unsalted will work too)

1/2 C Brown Sugar, packed

1/4 White Sugar (add extra if the apples are too tart)

1 t Cinnamon

Large Pinch Nutmeg

1/4 C + 1 T Heavy Cream, Divided

1 t Vanilla

3-4 T Cornstarch

1 Egg

2 Ready Made Pie Crusts or Enough dough to make a double crust pie

The Method:

*Fill a very large bowl about halfway with cold water. Add the juice of half a lemon, lime, or orange. OR add 1 T Apple Cider Vinegar.

*Peel, core, and slice the apples to about 1/8 inch, keeping them in the water as much as possible to prevent rusting.

*In a pot or frying pan large enough to hold the apples, melt the butter over medium high heat.

*Add the apples, sugars, and spices and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. The apples should be starting to cook through but still have plenty of crunch.

*Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a colander or other strainer set over a bowl.

*Bring the liquid from the apples to a fast boil and hold it there, periodically adding any accumulated liquid from the bowl under the strainer.

*Once the liquid begins to thicken, lower the heat until you get a moderate boil; the bubbles should be a bit larger and pop more slowly than before. Hold this boil until the sauce has reduced to the consistency of the caramel sauce that goes over ice cream.

*Shut the burner off at this point and add the vanilla and the 1/4 C of heavy cream.

*Turn the burner back onto medium low and boil the caramel until it is once again thickened as in the last step.

*Take the pan off the heat and stir in the apples.

*Cool the mixture to room temperature. This may take a couple of hours.

*Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

*Sprinkle cornstarch over the filling and mix well to incorporate.

*Whisk the egg and 1 T heavy cream very well and set aside.

*Prepare a 10 inch common depth or 9 inch deep dish pie plate with a bottom crust.

*Pour the filling in and place the top crust over it, making sure to secure it (run your hands over it to smooth it) from the middle outwards before crimping the edges. Make sure the edges are sealed.

*Brush the egg wash over the entire top of the pie. Don’t skimp on this step.

*Cut steam vents into the top crust.

*Wrap the outer edge of the pie plate with foil (make sure it doesn’t rest on the crust) or cover with a pie shield.

*Bake the pie until beginning to brown.

*Remove the foil or shield.

*Bake until uniformly brown and the filling has bubbled for at least 10 minutes. May take 70-80 minutes total bake time.

 

 

 

So after being informed by my BFF that the print feature I added awhile back actually prints the entire blog post instead of only the recipe like I wanted it to, I have (with a little help from a more experienced blogger) figured out how to make only the recipe in each post printable. Yay! So from now on you will be able to print only the best part of each post: the recipe! And when I get time here and there I will go back and add the feature to all of my other posts (which number 72 as of today, so it may take me a little while to get it done). Thank you all for sticking with me thus far! โค

Yes; you read that right: Maple Syrup Dumplings. As in soft, pillowy biscuit-style dumplings in a smooth sauce of maple syrup. Because sometimes it’s SO HARD to get out of bed with all of the not-so-great stuff you may have going on in life and you just need something indulgent and comforting for breakfast. Or because sometimes you get tired of the same old rotation at breakfast time and you need something easy but NEW to get your day started right. I would fall in the camp of the former. Right now things are just not as awesome as they should be. And while things are, in fact, improving, there are days that I have to argue with myself to get out of bed and take care of business. Those are the mornings that I try to make something fun for breakfast that will be a pleasant respite from “stuff” for my family and I. Maple syrup dumplings definitely qualify as fun!

When I was first told about maple syrup dumplings, I had the same reaction I imagine you’re having: “Wow- that has to be so sweet it will make my teeth ache!” But once I actually found a recipe and made it, I found out that it really isn’t as sickeningly sweet as it sounds. See, the sauce is made not only with maple syrup but water as well. So while it’s not something that you should eat all the time, it’s definitely worthy of an occasional spot on your breakfast table!

This dish is super easy to make and I would bet that all you’ll need to buy is the real maple syrup (unless you’re like me and try to keep it on hand). And you HAVE to use real maple syrup. If you can’t get any of the real stuff, make something else. If you try to use the fake maple syrup (the cheap “pancake syrup” you can buy in the plastic bottles in cute shapes) the dish will not turn out. The fake syrup doesn’t take well to cutting with water, at least flavor-wise. And it will be as sweet as you first thought when you heard the name of the dish. Just don’t try it; use the real deal!! Anyway, here’s what you need:

IMG_20150920_082412268_HDR

Once you get your dry ingredients mixed, you’re going to add the butter. The easiest way to do that is to use frozen butter and use a regular old box grater to grate it into the dry ingredients. Then all you have to do is stir and the butter will distribute, like so:

IMG_20150920_083205570_HDR

Set this aside for a minute and mix the maple syrup with the water in a large pan. If you don’t have a saucier like I do, use as big a sauce pan as you have or a soup pot. You could also use a very large skillet so long as you can cover it. One of key parts of this dish is having a tight fitting lid to make sure the dumplings cook through properly.

IMG_20150920_083502885_HDRย Look at that deep amber color! It’s a thing of beauty ๐Ÿ™‚ Turn your burner to medium high and bring the sauce to a boil. Just before it gets to that point, go ahead and add the milk to the flour and butter mixture. You may have to work a bit at getting the dough formed, but it only takes a minute. You should end up with something that resembles biscuit dough…

IMG_20150920_084203677

By now your sauce should be boiling. Drop the dough by the spoonful into the sauce. I try to get dough balls that are about the size of a golf ball, maybe a tiny bit bigger.

IMG_20150920_084331985_HDR

These will puff up quite a bit, don’t worry! Now put a tight fitting lid on your pan, lower the heat slightly to medium, and set a timer for 10 minutes (but don’t go far; you’ll need to keep an eye on things). You may notice…

IMG_20150920_084622108_HDR

That the sauce is bubbling up over the dumplings A LOT. That’s OK! It will do that for a little while. Eventually, though…

IMG_20150920_085130379_HDR

Things will calm down and the sauce won’t be bubbling as high. That’s when you need to back the heat down a little bit- but keep the pan at least at a fast simmer. When the 10 minutes are up take off the lid and check the dumplings.

IMG_20150920_085443979_HDR

See the dumpling in the lower part of the middle? I used a spoon to open it up a little and make sure it was cooked through. It should look like a biscuit inside with no raw dough. And the sauce… Oh, the sauce!

IMG_20150920_085743106

 

So thick and rich! The flour from the dumplings thickens the sauce into a velvety smooth taste of bliss! I usually give one and a half dumplings per serving with a good scoop of sauce over the top. It looks like a rather small serving, but a little goes a long way. If you want to add a little protein to this indulgent breakfast, bacon is a natural accompaniment. But I must say that as much as I love bacon, a mildly spicy breakfast sausage compliments the flavor of this dish perfectly. So go ahead; give yourself (and someone you love) a little treat for breakfast- you deserve it ๐Ÿ™‚

The Recipe:

1 3/4 C Real Maple Syrup

1 1/2 C Water

1 1/2 C Flour

4 1/2 t Baking Powder

1/2 t Salt

1/4 C Butter, Frozen and Grated

3/4 C Milk

The Method:

*In a large pot or pan/skillet with high sides, combine the maple syrup and the water. Set the burner to medium high.

*In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and the salt. Add the grated butter and stir until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

*Add the milk to the flour & butter mixture and stir until the milk is worked through and there is no more flour in the bottom of the bowl. The dough will be fairly stiff.

*Once the syrup mixture is boiling gently add the dumpling dough by the spoonful, making the dumplings just slightly larger than a golf ball (or about the size of an egg).

*Once all of the dough has been used, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, lower the heat to medium so that the syrup continues boiling gently, and set a timer for 10 minutes.

*Once 10 minutes have passed, take the lid off and check the dumplings. They should be firm and there shouldn’t be any sticky dough left in the center.

*Serve immediately, storing any leftovers in the fridge.

 

 

As you know, I much prefer to use real food (“whole”, “natural”, etc) ingredients when I cook and bake. I try to stay away from processed foods as much as I can, but sometimes the classics are based on foods that are not really good for you. Take pecan pie, for example. One of the main ingredients is corn syrup. Granted; it’s not as bad as high fructose corn syrup (which is ultra processed- WAY more than regular corn syrup), but it’s still definitely not a health food. In fact, my mom can’t eat anything with corn syrup in it without getting a bad headache. So for Thanksgiving last year I set out in search of a recipe for pecan pie that doesn’t use corn syrup. I found several that use honey instead. Score! Honey is most definitely a health food, and you can use it in place of corn syrup in many recipes (but there will need to be other adjustments to the recipe too, so don’t just start swapping honey for corn syrup willy nilly). So I played around with combining some of the recipes and this is the result. My mom LOVES it and no one who’s tried it so far dislikes it.

Pecan pie is actually a very simple pie. All you need is some basic ingredients:

IMG_20141128_113136398_HDR

If you’re using salted butter like I am here, you won’t need extra salt. If you use unsalted butter (which is what most recipes call for) you’ll need to add a little salt to the filling.

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that I don’t have a pie crust pictured. You’ll need one, but the method you use to procure one I’ll leave to you. I used a refrigerated just-roll-it-out-in-the-pan crust from the store. By all means; if you want to make your own, please do! I didn’t because I don’t have anyplace to roll out a pie crust. The great thing about making your own pie crust is that you can make the pie any size you want. You can do a full pie or you can use a muffin tin or individual tart pans to make tiny pies. Either way, it’s up to you.

First you’ll need to melt your butter. Put the butter in a medium sized saucepan over very low heat. Once the butter is just melted, take the pan off the heat and let it sit for a little while; long enough for the butter to cool slightly.

IMG_20141128_114147783

In the meantime, line your pie pan with the crust and then put the pecans in the bottom. How much you need will depend on the size of your pie pan. The pan I used is a 9 inch, regular depth pan. I used about a cup of chopped pecans, maybe a tiny bit over that:

IMG_20141128_114925187

Most recipes call for whole pecans to be laid out nicely in the bottom of the crust. I don’t do that. One reason is that whole pecans are crazy expensive. Stupidly expensive. Another reason is the trouble I have cutting a pie that uses whole pecans. The pecans tend to just squish down and make a mess out of the filling. So I use chopped pecans and they work just fine.

Next, add the brown sugar, honey, vinegar, vanilla, and salt (if you need it) to the butter. Whisk all of that together very well. It will take a little mixing to get everything incorporated into the butter- that’s a lot of butter.

IMG_20141128_114447303_HDR

As you can see, there’s still a tiny bit of butter around the edges that hasn’t been incorporated yet. It’s ok; it will get mixed in once I add the eggs…

IMG_20141128_114642846

There we go! All mixed together and ready to go over the pecans. Gently pour this mixture over the pecans, scraping the pan with a spatula to get all the goodness into the pie pan. Once you do, you’ll notice something:

IMG_20141128_115057919

Yep. Bubbles. Little bubbles coming to the surface as the gaps between the pecan pieces are filled. But they’re nothing to worry about. You can try to jiggle the pan a bit to get rid of them, but you don’t need to. The pecans will float to the surface as the pie bakes and the bubbles will dissipate then.

Time to go in the oven! Place this on a foil lined cookie sheet so that if the pie overflows the pan will catch it (which I’ve never had happen, but better safe than scrubbing charred sugar off the bottom of your oven) and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the center is set. It shouldn’t jiggle when you shake the pan gently.

IMG_20141128_124451546

Ok, so my pie isn’t perfect. The crust on the right side there wasn’t pressed to the side of the pan correctly, so it shrank down a bit. Not a huge deal. The huge deal is that this pie almost burned. I should have taken it out of the oven about 3 minutes before I did. I missed the timer when it sounded. I’m lucky I walked through the kitchen when I did. So keep an eye on the timer and make sure you choose a loud one! Anyway, I managed to save my pie and not have to make another.

One of the problems I’ve noticed with pies that substitute another ingredient for corn syrup is that the filling is runnier than it should be.

IMG_20141201_130548270

As you can see, that isn’t a problem with this recipe! The center looks a little runny, but really that’s just where I pushed the filling in with a knife to cut the pie (which would have been much worse had I used whole pecans). This recipe really is the best I’ve found for pecan pie- period. The flavor is amazing and not sickeningly sweet like the corn syrup recipes out there. The texture is heavenly! And it’s made using one of nature’s super foods- how much better could it get?!

The Recipe:

1/2 C (1 Stick) Butter

1 C Brown Sugar

1/2 C Honey

1 T Apple Cider Vinegar

2 t Vanilla

1/4 t Salt (ONLY IF USING UNSALTED BUTTER!)

3 Eggs, lightly beaten

1- 1 1/2 C Pecan Pieces

9 inch unbaked Pie Crust

The Method:

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

*Prepare pie pan or plate with the unbaked crust.

*Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.

*Once melted, remove from heat and add the next 5 ingredients.

*Whisk well, incorporating the butter into the other ingredients.

*Add the eggs and whisk very well.

*Pour the pecans into the pie crust so that they cover the entire bottom.

*Gently pour the filling over the pecans, scraping the saucepan to get all of the filling you can.

*Bake the pie for 45-60 minutes; until the pie is set in the center.

*Let cool completely before slicing, but chilling is not necessary. If having something that has eggs in it left on the counter and not in the fridge bothers you, you can go ahead & refrigerate it. But I left this pie out for 4 days before finishing the last piece and I didn’t even have a hint of tummy trouble. There’s so much sugar and fat in the filling that spoilage isn’t an issue for quite some time.

I’ve had some requests for a “print recipe” feature, so I looked around and found one of those! You can now find a new button on each post. It’s labeled “print and PDF” and it can be found at the very bottom of each post along with the sharing buttons. You’re welcome and thanks for your continued support! โค

I have a recipe up my sleeve that I wanted to share this week, but due to technical difficulties I couldn’t get it posted. I hope to have it up next week. In the meantime, I had something exciting happen last week: I was contacted by Endless Simmer to be featured in their Top 10 Gingersnap Recipes list! I consider myself (rightly) a small time food blogger. I’m not one of the big girls or boys who have hundreds or thousands of followers and their own cookbooks in the works. I can’t say it wouldn’t be fun sometimes to be that. But that’s not my goal. I like what I do and I like my blog. I think about the stress and the time taken away from my family to be a big blogger like that and I say, most assuredly, “I’ll pass, thanks.” So I was amazed that someone actually wanted to feature my post along with so many other wonderful posts from fantastic bloggers. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! So here you go; my first guest appearance ๐Ÿ™‚

Top 10 gingersnap Recipe Countdown:

http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2014/10/08/gingersnaps-gone-wild-top-ten-gingersnap-recipes/

I almost didn’t do this post. I almost threw the Christmas pudding away and said “forget it” to Christmas dinner. The two months running up to Christmas were awful. (Things still aren’t great but no one wants to read my belly aching- not even me.) The last thing I felt like doing was making a big dinner and a big to-do. But in trying to hang on to the true reason for Christmas I found that making the season bright for my kids this year meant doing little things- like making treats and listening to Christmas music that told the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth. And they were excited to try the Christmas pudding so I had to finish the series. Thankfully it was done, for the most part. All I had to do was put it in the steamer for a couple of hours and make a super simple sauce to go over it. Actually, the whole thing was really simple now that I look back on it. The hardest part was shredding the suet- that was pretty messy. But now I know that I need to freeze it first so it doesn’t melt all over my hands. Other than that, it was easier than making a cake the modern way; I didn’t even have to bother greasing and flouring a cake pan!

You have to have a pretty big steamer to heat this pudding. I have a stock pot with a pasta basket insert so I used that. I left it to steam the entire 2 hours the recipe called for. I thought about letting it go only an hour because the 2 hour time was for the full sized pudding and I only made a half batch. But when I checked it at one hour I could tell the pudding wasn’t soft enough- the middle wasn’t going to be anywhere near hot and soft like it should be. So it took the entire 2 hours. In the last 5 minutes of the cooking time I made the sauce. It called for powdered sugar, butter, and rum (the recipe is below). I wanted my kids to be able to eat the sauce so I used milk instead. Here’s the pudding when it came out of the steamer and I managed to get it out of the towel:

IMG_0621

Let me tell you: getting the string off of the top of the towel to unwrap this pudding was an adventure. It was HOT!! But it only took a second once the proper knife was brought out (a thin fillet knife) and the whole pudding came right out of the flour sack towel easier than a cake coming out of a greased pan. The towel is permanently stained, but I don’t care. I didn’t buy them to be pretty & white & hang on a towel bar for guests to admire. I bought them to be used. Heavily. It’s doing it’s job. So don’t use a flour sack towel you want to keep looking pretty.

The next step is purely for presentation. I didn’t have to do it. But I knew the kids would love it. I took about 4 ounces of rum, poured it over the pudding, and lit it…

IMG_0625

Ooh and ahhs all around, I assure you! The kids thought it was grand and even my husband was very impressed. The picture doesn’t do it justice- you’ll have to try it for yourself!

I gave everyone a slice that was about 1/2 in thick and poured a good helping of sauce over each…

IMG_0631

As it turns out I should have made a quarter batch. I had about half of my pudding left over. Ron & I really liked it, Zachariah kind of liked it, but the girls both hated it. They didn’t like the texture of the raisins (one doesn’t like raisins at all so was rather set against it from the start). The flavor was very rich but not overly sweet- even with the healthy serving of sauce. I think I will make another, smaller batch this year and wrap it in a second flour sack towel to avoid the pantry problem I had with this attempt. Maybe another 11 months will develop the kids’ palates enough to enjoy it ๐Ÿ˜‰ And maybe next year Christmas will be a little better time and I can enjoy the busyness more than I did this go round.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and your new year is going smoothly! I hope to continue to bring weekly installments of wonderful food, helpful hints, and a bit of snark this year. I really do enjoy being a food blogger- it’s a lot of fun for me! I hope you will continue to join me here in my little corner of the blogosphere!

The Recipe- Hard Sauce:ย 

2 C Powdered Sugar

10 T Butter, Softened

Pinch Salt (If using unsalted butter. If using salted butter, leave this out)

2 T Rum, Brandy, or spirit of choice (I wanted the kids to be able to eat this without the strong flavor of the alcohol so I used milk)

The Method:

*Mix the powdered sugar, butter, and salt (if using) together in a bowl. You can just stir it by hand with a fork or spoon- you don’t have to use a mixer if you don’t want to.

*Add in the liquid and stir well. The sauce should be runny but not watery. If you need more liquid add it in by the teaspoonful.

*Spoon desired amount over each slice of Christmas Pudding- just don’t go over board. You have to have enough for everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

This has not been a great year. My husband got laid off from his crappy job with a long commute (30 miles. Through a winding canyon. Full of looky-loo tourists. Took him an hour each way) thanks to Obamacare. I was worried- I can’t even tell you how desperately we needed that income, but within a week of getting the news that his contract wouldn’t be renewed he was in the beginning stages of starting a new job. A better job. A really good job, actually. So we rejoiced that God hadn’t let us find a new home where Ron’s crappy job was; meaning we would have been stuck there and he would have had the same long commute each day, just in the opposite direction each way. And we started looking for a new home here in Loveland. I was so happy that we would be able to move into our own place and start living our life as a family in better times again. I was elated that we would be able to give our kids some really good Christmas gifts and that we would be able to give them the one thing they truly wanted: our own home again. Notice a theme? Our own home. We have been in this situation too long. And every time we start to get back on our feet they get knocked out from under us again. This time was no different. Once again, thanks to Obamacare, Ron got laid off. Only this time we were blindsided. He went to work, normal as could be, on a Monday and on that Tuesday morning he walked in and they told him that Monday was his last day and they were awfully sorry. We are now in the process of looking for a new job for Ron as well as considering attempting to get him trained for something so he can bring in a good income instead of struggling just to pay basic bills. That being the case, our gift fund is at exactly $0. Holiday cheer has been thin on the ground this year.

So as we are without an income and my hope is trickling down the drain, Christmas is all but canceled. “All but” because we have kids. We can’t just cancel Christmas. We are attempting to hold on to the REAL reason for Christmas and make the holiday about Jesus, not gifts. It’s hard but we’re working at it and the kids are still happy…

Anyone else out there struggling to be merry this Christmas? This is such a hard time of year for so many people- for so many reasons. I know full well we aren’t the only ones. Sometimes we all need a little holiday boost- whatever the holiday. And sometimes that boost needs to involve liquor. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying “turn to booze!” I was married to an alcoholic at one time- I know better than that. But sometimes we all need the warm fuzziness of a hot mug of sweet, spicy, tinglyness-inducing holiday cheer. This SO fits the bill! Nothing outlandish, nothing too fancy, just holiday cheer you can hold in your hands.

All you need is this…

IMG_0582

Surprising? It was for me when I finally looked up the recipe for hot buttered rum. I always thought it would be more complicated than that. I was very happy to learn I was wrong! You don’t HAVE to add the spices; in the original version from American Colonial times they were only added by the well to do because spices were still pretty pricey. But the spices definitely add a nice touch so I always add them.

All you have to do is mix the ingredients all together and you’ve got hot buttered rum batter. Seriously- it’s that simple. You can use a hand or stand mixer or you can just mix it well by hand. You end up with “batter”…

IMG_0534

To make a mug of hot buttered rum just mix 1 tablespoon of the batter with 8 ounces of boiling water (or apple cider- it’s awesome with hot apple cider!) and 3/4 – 1 1/2 ounces of spiced rum. I use the lesser amount but use what you like. ย Stir it all together well to melt the butter and dissolve the sugar and you’re done.

IMG_0589

Drink this slowly while you’re watching the snow pile up outside or while you watch one of the myriad Christmas movies that are all around us this time of year. Hopefully before you get to the dregs at the bottom of the mug you’ll have been lifted out of any kind of funk you’ve been in and back on the road to Christmas cheerfulness. Let this beautiful little mug of sweetness & spice remind you of all the things that are truly important at Christmas. And share with those around you- you never know when someone else could use a mug of cheer as well.

The Recipe:

1 Stick Butter, very soft

1 C Brown Sugar

1 t Cinnamon

1/2 t Ginger (or Cloves, or 1/2 t each)

1/8 – 1/4 t nutmeg (to taste)

The Method:

*Combine all ingredients well.

*Transfer to an airtight container.

*Store in the fridge or on the counter. I keep mine on the counter because I keep my butter on the counter. I hate cold butter. If keeping butter on the counter creeps you out, store this in the fridge.

To Make a Hot Buttered Rum:

*In a mug, combine 1 T batter, 8 ounces boiling water (or boiling apple cider), and 3/4 ounce to 1 1/2 ounces of dark, spiced rum. I use the lesser amount because I want to enjoy a cocktail, not get punched in the jaw with liquor.

*Stir well to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.

This is a very special recipe. Really- it is! This is the recipe my husband asks for every single year for his birthday cake. My husband’s name is Ron (Ronald), which means “Ruler”. And as he is the leader of our household and the head of our marriage I’d say that makes him the ruler of this family! Ok, I’ll admit that that was maybe a little cheesy. But it’s all true and I do believe this cheesecake would make royalty happy! This is an incredibly basic cheesecake recipe; no lemon or sour cream. Just a plain vanilla cheesecake. But it is SO good! Rich and creamy with the perfect thick texture- and the plainness of it is the perfect palette for toppings. Ron is a purist and insists that any cheesecake he’s going to eat have cherry pie filling on top and nothing else. Well… maybe strawberry or raspberry puree, but that’s starting to push it. I myself, on the other hand, have no such purist leanings. I’m not crazy about cherries in general so I usually scrape mine off and give them to Ron ๐Ÿ™‚ I love lots of different flavors on and in my cheesecake: caramel, pumpkin, strawberry, blueberry, Snickers… anything but coconut and coffee, really! And this recipe is the perfect starting off point for all of them!

As I said; this is a very basic cheesecake, so you want to make sure you have the best ingredients you can get your hands on- especially the vanilla. Being the only actual flavoring agent, the vanilla is very important. If you use cheap vanilla for this your cheesecake will taste like cheap vanilla and the results will be lackluster.

IMG_0543

This cheesecake is incredibly simple to prepare. The hardest part is making the graham cracker crumbs if, like me, you don’t have a food processor. And, currently, we are out of zip top bags, so I can’t even use the trick of crushing them with a rolling pin in a zip top bag. What I do in this situation is use a wooden rolling pin that is missing the handle on one side to pound the graham crackers into crumbs. Sometimes things get broken and become an entirely new tool! ๐Ÿ™‚ You have to be careful when doing it that way because it’s easier to make a mess, but it works! You COULD just buy graham cracker crumbs, but they are insanely expensive- it’s not that much trouble to make them yourself and you save a lot of money!

IMG_0545

Make sure you press the crust evenly into the bottom of the pan. If you just spread them in the bottom without pressing them down they will form a crumb layer on the bottom and quite a bit of the crust mixture will end up floating throughout the cheesecake. Tasty, but not how it’s supposed to be. Now this gets put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until it starts to smell really good and gets a little brown… er. It starts out light brown and you want it to end up a little darker light brown. I know that sounds confusing, but just make the crust & you’ll find out what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚

IMG_0549

Once you have your crust blind baked all you have to do is mix the filling & pour it in the crust. You will definitely need a mixer for the filling; cream cheese is a pain to beat by hand. Literally. I’ve done it before and my wrist hurt for 2 days afterward. So make sure your cream cheese is nice and soft and start beating it. I use my stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) for this because it’s a lot stronger than the hand mixer I have. Give the cream cheese a good beating and make sure it’s completely smooth. Stop the mixer a couple of times and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the cream cheese is beaten.

IMG_0554

See? No lumps. Lumpy cheesecake=yucky cheesecake. Seriously. Biting into a lump of plain cream cheese ruins the moment. Don’t let it happen to you. Now that you have perfectly smooth cream cheese, add the sugar and beat the heck out of it again. Stop & scrape the sides at least twice to make sure get all of the sugar incorporated before you add the eggs. Don’t be afraid to over beat the filling at this point- you want to make sure it’s smooth & well mixed.

Now you can add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time, mixing very well and scraping the bowl down after each egg. I realize that is a little more work than most cheesecake recipes call for but this is they only way I have found to REALLY make sure you get all of the cream cheese properly incorporated. It only take a few seconds extra, so don’t skip this step. Here’s how smooth your batter should end up:

IMG_0555

Very pretty indeed! Now there are two ways to bake this: with a water bath or without. I have an awful time with my cheesecake cracking either way. I’ve tried both ways several times and have always had my cheesecake get HUGE cracks (calling them “fissures” would not be a stretch) in the middle before it’s even done baking. If you want to do a water bath, put the cheesecake in a pan that will fit into another pan with room to spare. If you’re using a spring form pan, wrap the outside of it with foil so water can’t get in. Set the bigger pan on the rack of the preheated oven, set the cheesecake filled pan in the bigger pan, and carefully pour boiling water into the bigger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. Bake as per directions. Personally, I will be using the above pictured pan every time I make cheesecake from now on. It’s a stoneware 8 x 11 dish that my mom gave me as a gift. And the cheesecake didn’t crack while baking! I think it’s because the stoneware dish heats and holds heat more evenly.

IMG_0560

I did not use a water bath this time- just the stoneware dish. I ended up with a 2 inch, shallow crack in the middle when it was done cooling. I can certainly live with that! The brown around the edges that you see is not normal. The actual edges of the cheesecake are supposed to be a bit brown, but you shouldn’t have cooked on batter on the pan like that. I actually forgot to add the vanilla before I put the batter in the pan. So I had to mix it in carefully after I already had it in the dish. I was talking to my mom while doing this and got distracted. Violated my own rule. Again. But there are worse things. Moving on…

IMG_0562

These are actually the last two pieces. I almost didn’t get a shot of the cheesecake with toppings. With 5 people eating on it, it barely lasted 2 days. I know the lighting is bad; this was taken at 8:30 at night. Sorry. We enjoyed these last two pieces with particular relish, as I won’t be making another cheesecake until Ron- my Ruler’s- birthday. My guess is when you try this cheesecake you’ll want it for your birthday too!

The Recipe- The Crust:

1 C Graham Cracker Crumbs

3 T Sugar

5 T Butter, Melted

The Recipe- The Filling:

24 Oz Cream Cheese, Softened

3/4 C Sugar

3 Eggs

1 t Vanilla

The Method: The Crust:

*Heat oven to 325 degrees.

*In a bowl, combine all ingredients well.

*Pour into chosen pan and, with your fingers or the bottom of a glass or measuring cup, gently but firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and up the side of the pan (only about 1/2 an inch, depending on the size of your pan).

*Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, until it smells of buttery graham crackers and is slightly more golden.

*Take out of the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes.

The Method- The Filling and Construction:

*Heat oven to 425 degrees.

*In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom at least once.

*Add the sugar and beat again, scraping the sides and bottom at least twice, until the mixture is perfectly smooth.

*Add the vanilla and then the eggs one at a time. Mix each egg into the batter completely and then scrape the bowl down after each egg.

* Once as close to perfectly smooth as you can get it, pour the batter into the crust.

*If you want to use a water bath, follow the instructions above.

*Bake the cheesecake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 250 and bake until the cheesecake is set in the middle and starting to brown around the edges. This could be anywhere from 35-45 minutes up to an hour plus. You’ll just have to keep an eye on it.

*Once done, open the oven door and let the cheesecake cool for one hour in the oven.

*Remove from the oven and finish cooling on the counter.

*Once completely cool, put the cheesecake in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.

*Slice and serve with desired toppings. Or eat it plain- it’s just that good!