27 November 2014

10 Favorite Kitchen Essentials

If you're reading this now, your cooking is probably done for the next few days. If it hasn't happened yet, within the next several days your thoughts will likely turn to shopping and yet more cooking. 

So this is the perfect time for us to talk about kitchen must-haves. It's been three years since I posted my 10 Favorite Kitchen Gadgets, something I thought I would do annually. Oh well ... so much for my briskly efficient editorial calendar! 

Of course, those 10 favorites are still favorites; and here are 10 more. The items on my list range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars each and are all, with one exception, things I use nearly every day in my own kitchen.

What kitchen tools and gadgets do you find indispensable? What's on your wish list? 

10 Favorite Kitchen Essentials

1 Cuisinart 5.5-quart stand mixer There is also a 7-quart model, but I haven't made anything yet that made me regret choosing the 5.5-quart (pictured above). It has proven more than adequate for my purposes. Like my decades-old Cuisinart food processor, this heavy-duty workhorse will live forever! 

2 Thermapen I wish I could buy all of you a Thermapen super-fast instant-read thermometer. I use it all the time to take the temperature of meats, doughs, breads, custards. It's the secret to my perfect eggnog!

3 French rolling pin I have all kinds of rolling pins, but this is my personal favorite. I reach for it more frequently than my straight rolling pin or the big one with handles or the one with ball bearings. 

4 Cuisinart food processor I have the Prep Plus now. Before that I had the no-longer-made DLC 10-E, the predecessor of the Cuisinart DLC 10-S 7-cup. It still works beautifully, so I passed it along to a friend when I got the bigger one. 

5 OXO Good Grips bench scraper This is great for scooping up chopped vegetables, trimming puff pastry, dividing dough, scraping dough residue from cutting board or counter. 

6 Lodge Pro-Logic 14-inch cast iron pizza pan I use it like a pizza stone. Great for artisan breads as well as pizza. When baking a pie, I put a square of foil on the pan and set the pie plate on it. Keeps the oven clean and aids with browning the bottom crust. 

7 GIR spatulas Love these unibody silicone tools! One piece of molded food-grade silicone with reinforced interiors, heat-proof to 464 degrees, eco-friendly material, BPA-free, easy to clean and dishwasher safe. Four sizes: mini, skinny, ultimate and pro.

8 OXO Good Grips 11-pound digital scale I still use measuring cups for some things, but weighing flours of all kinds is the only way to go! You can go from weighing pounds and ounces to metric units with the push of a button. Helps in making my rolls the same size and getting equal amounts of batter in layer cake pans. 

9 Wusthof Classic 6-inch extra wide cook's knife A really good chef's knife is the most important knife to have, and it needs to have the right blade size for the task and the right handle for your hand. This 6-inch extra wide is shorter than, but just as wide as, the regular 8-inch; and it feels "right" in my hand.

Number 10 is something I don't actually have yet, so it's really Number 1 on my wish list! 

10 All-Clad stainless steel 2-quart saucier Anyone who makes custards and sauces as often as I do needs this pan. Its sloped bottom allows a whisk or spoon to do a thorough job. 

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20 November 2014

Chocolate Cream Pie for Two

Chocolate Cream Pie is something I rarely have because a whole pie is too much for two or three people. Fruit pie I'll eat for breakfast, so no problem there. But chocolate, well, I can't justify having that for breakfast. Then I thought, Why not just make a small one?

I had some leftover buttermilk recently, and you know how I hate to waste food. Happened to be making a pie one day and decided to use buttermilk instead of water. Loved it. And here I am again with buttermilk on hand, so I made buttermilk pastry for this pie.

Thing is, I'm not sure I even like regular pie crust for chocolate cream pie any more. I'm thinking I might like some sort of crumb crust or maybe the nut crust I use on my Chocolate Creamy Dreamy.

The Whipped Cream Fiasco
Subtitle: Some days it just doesn't pay to even go into the kitchen!

Then there's the whipped cream. I'm thinking I might actually prefer meringue. But that might just be because I had such an ordeal with the whipped cream. Yes, an ordeal! The store was out of my favorite organic heavy whipping cream, so I got a different brand. It would not whip!

I've never had that happen before. The heavy whipping cream was cold. The bowl was cold. The wire whip beater was cold. I made it just the way I always do. It would not whip! I always use number 5 on my mixer for whipped cream. After 10 minutes on number 5, the cream was barely thicker than when it came out of the carton.

So I cranked it up to 8 for a few minutes. No change. I turned it all the way up to 12 for a few minutes. No change. I gave it 20 minutes total before deciding there was something wrong with the cream. My husband made an emergency run to the nearest grocery store and bought another pint of heavy whipping cream, and I started over.

No problem, as you can see from the photo. Question: Ever happen to you? Or: What is your latest kitchen fiasco? 

Chocolate Cream Pie

(Makes one 6- to 7-inch pie, 4 servings)

The Buttermilk Pastry for one 6- or 7-inch pie shell

3/4 dip-and-sweep cup (3.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into thin pats
3 to 4 tablespoons buttermilk

The Chocolate Filling

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
1 tablespoon triple-strength coffee,* optional
2 large egg yolks (save whites for the meringue)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Update 08/30/16: If you're making the pie ahead and want to make sure the whipped cream holds up, follow the directions here for Stabilized Whipped Cream.

Update 02/01/19: My new favorite crust for any cream pie is the one you will find here at Banana Cream Pie - Best Crust Ever for Cream Pies.

* For triple-strength coffee, I put a tablespoon of ground coffee in a one-cup paper filter and pour over 1/4 cup boiled water, then keep it in the refrigerator for a few days to use in various things. (I don't really know if that's precisely "triple-strength," but that's what I decided to call it!)

1 In 1.5-quart bowl, whisk together flour and salt. With pastry cutter or fingertips, cut butter into flour, leaving some larger pieces. With a dinner fork, stir in buttermilk a little at a time, using only as much as necessary to form a shaggy dough. Wrap the dough in a square of plastic wrap, forming the dough into a 1-inch-thick disk. Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. Save the piece of plastic, you'll be using it again.

2 Roll out pastry to an 11-inch circle and transfer dough to 6- to 7-inch pie plate, pressing dough (but not stretching it) to fit pie plate with about a one-inch overhang (trim with knife or scissors), crimp edge, cover with reserved piece of plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes, dock (poke holes all over bottom and sides with a fork). Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until well browned. Cool on wire rack. 

3 When pie shell is just about cooled, start making filling. In heavy-bottomed 1.5-quart saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in egg yolks, coffee and, gradually, milk until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until you see bubbles forming at the edge and the mixture thickening, about 5 minutes or so. 

4 Strain through fine-mesh sieve, and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into cooled crust and smooth top. Cover with reserved piece of plastic wrap and let cool at room temperature for one hour; place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.  

5 In bowl of heavy-duty stand mixer with wire whisk attached, beat cold cream, sugar and vanilla on medium speed. After about 4 or 5 minutes of thinking nothing is happening, you'll start to see the cream thickening. Continue to beat at medium speed, watching for the soft peaks stage, then the firm peaks stage. If you're just spreading the whipped cream on the pie, stop there. If you want to pipe the whipped cream, beat until whites hold stiff peaks. Pay close attention at every stage; it can turn to butter before you know it!

6 With a pastry bag fitted with a 2D tip or 1M tip, pipe rosettes of whipped cream onto pie.


13 November 2014

Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

Pumpkin Pecan Cookies / www.delightfulrepast.com

Pumpkin pecan cookies are an autumn favorite. I just love the spicy scents wafting around the kitchen as they bake. Funny, but I rarely make anything with pumpkin during spring or summer. Funny because I prefer to use canned pumpkin, which is available year round.

I buy organic pumpkin in 15-ounce cans, which hold 1 3/4 cups. I absolutely hate waste (My Grandma would be so proud!), so if a recipe calls for anything less than the whole can I have to have two recipes lined up to use it all. So when I make my Steamed Pumpkin Pudding that calls for 3/4 cup, I also make this cookie recipe that calls for the remaining cup.

Granted, these may not be the most photogenic cookies, but they are "healthy" cookies, having less sugar and fat than typical cookies. The raisins are naturally sweet and the spices add an illusion of sweetness, so you won't feel deprived that each large cookie has just a teaspoon of sugar.

Pumpkin Pecan Cookies / www.delightfulrepast.com

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Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

(Makes 3 dozen cookies)

2 dip-and-sweep cups (10 ounces/283 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves

10 tablespoons (5 ounces/142 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces/149 grams) sugar
1 cup (8.5 ounces/241 grams) pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) chopped pecans
1 packed cup (5 ounces/142 grams) raisins

1 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4 (375F/190C/Gas5, if using insulated cookie sheet). In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. 

2 In medium bowl, cream butter and sugar; add egg, then pumpkin puree, then dry ingredients. Stir in nuts and raisins. 

3 Drop by #40 scoopfuls (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) onto cookie sheet that has been greased or lined with parchment paper. Flatten scoops of dough a bit unless you like a spherical cookie. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.


06 November 2014

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake - Slow Cooker

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake / www.delightfulrepast.com

Cheesecake is the dessert we order most often when dining out. Since I started making cheesecakes in the slow cooker, I make them much more frequently; so we can Just Say No to expensive desserts at the restaurant and go home to homemade cheesecake!

It is pumpkin 
season, so pumpkin cheesecake was in order. But I like vanilla so much I thought I'd compromise with a pumpkin swirl cheesecake. Of course, as usual, I just made it up as I went along. 

I thought 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree mixed into 3/4 cup of the cheesecake batter would be about right for the swirl. Took a stab at the spice amounts; couldn't go by taste because I do not eat anything with raw eggs in it. Turned out well!

Do you think this might make a change from pumpkin pie on your autumn celebration menus? Or an addition? Think I'll have just a tiny sliver of each!

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

(Makes one 7-inch cheesecake, 8 servings)

The Crust

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature (for pan)
1 cup crushed crisp ginger cookies
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

The Filling

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, each cut into 8 squares, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of ground cloves

1 Butter bottom and sides of a 7-inch springform pan with the softened butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the pan, press it in the buttered pan, then turn it over and press it into place. 

2 Combine crumbs, and melted butter until the mixture comes together. If you used a food processor to make the crumbs, you can mix the crust in it as well. If you used your fingers or the rolling pin/plastic bag method to make the crumbs, you can mix the crust with a fork in a small bowl. Press the crumb mixture evenly and firmly over the bottom of the pan.

Note: The ginger cookies I used would have been impossible to crush without a food processor!

3 With electric mixer on medium speed, mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until perfectly smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beaters/paddle. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. On low speed, mix in sour cream just until well combined. Remove 3/4 cup of the cheesecake batter; set aside. Pour half the remaining batter into the prepared pan.

Note: Don't get in a hurry like I did and not allow enough time for your cream cheese to come to room temperature and soften, or you end up with little chunks of cream cheese throughout the batter. Even if it all smooths out as it bakes, I don't like it! Do as I say, not as I do!

4 Stir together the reserved 3/4 cup of cheesecake batter and the pumpkin puree and spices until thoroughly combined. Place spoonfuls of the pumpkin batter on top of the filling in the pan; pour the remaining half of the batter into the pan. Place spoonfuls of the remaining pumpkin batter on top of the filling in the pan; cut through batter several times with a knife to make swirls (being careful not to disturb the crust).

5 Place rack in bottom of cooker, and add water to just below the rack (that's about 2 1/2 cups in the Cuisinart MSC-600 Multicooker). Set the cheesecake on the rack. Cover the slow cooker with a triple layer of paper towels and the lid. (The paper towels will prevent condensation falling from the lid onto your cheesecake.) Set to Slow Cook on High for 2 hours; do not lift lid. Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 hour; do not lift lid until the hour is up.

6 Remove the lid and paper towels, and remove cheesecake to wire rack. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake; cool for 1 hour. Run the knife around the edge again and remove the sides of the pan. Cover and chill for at least 6 hours (or up to 3 days) before serving.

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