Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Potluck: Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake

Thanksgiving dinner this year was a potluck held at my aunt and uncle's house. And I was told I could bring anything I wanted. So I scoured some of my favorite blogs looking for the perfect contribution, and landed on this delicious-looking pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake on Iowa Girl Eats.

I waited until Wednesday to make this and brought all of my ingredients to grandma's house, where she served as my trusty dessert-making sidekick.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake - Serves 12
1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 8-oz packages 1/3 less fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (this one I actually had to hunt for; thank goodness for my new favorite Penzeys Spices shop in Uptown)
3/4 cup egg substitute
Cool Whip
Extra gingersnap crumbs

Start by crushing your gingersnaps. Some people might use a food processor; I opted for the good ol' plastic Ziploc bag and soup can method. Made with extra love ;)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place your gingersnap crumbs in a bowl and combine with melted butter.

Next, spread the gingersnap crumb mixture into a sprayed non-stick 9" spring form pan and press the mixture to form the crust.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the pumpkin, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and cloves. Beat until creamy and slowly stream in the egg substitute with the mixer still running.

Pour the mixture over the crust on the pan. Use a spatula to smooth out the top (along with grandma's tried and true shaking-the-pan smoothing technique).

Place a casserole dish full of water on the rack at the bottom of the oven and bake the cheesecake on the center rack for 1.5 hours or until the center is set. Let cool for an hour and then place in the fridge for at least four hours or until firm.

The beauty of the spring form pan is that you can just unsnap and remove the sides, serving your cheesecake straight from the pan base (depending on your cheesecake, you might need to run a sharp knife around the edges before removing the sides; I forgot that step but it wasn't needed for mine).

Serve the cheesecake with a dollop of whip cream beneath a sprinkling of gingersnap crumbs.

I really thought this was quite delicious. Rich and creamy with just the right amount of spice. The flavor was perfect. The texture smooth. My only hiccup was convincing the family to try it. Dinner was so filling and the dessert options so plentiful that I almost thought I'd have to twist arms to get people to try it. After some aggressive light prodding, I successfully served up all but a few pieces. And the general consensus was also that it was very good :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Pizza Adventure

Before galavanting off to Wisconsin last week (and before the first snow hit the ground), I had another fun pizza experience. This time...making pizzas!

I was invited to a pizza party where the hosts had their very own wood-burning brick oven in their backyard. What a fun way to entertain guests :)

We started by rolling out our dough, spreading on the pizza sauce and adding all of our favorite ingredients. I used red sauce, lots of mozzarella, pepperoni, some sausage, mushrooms, basil, black olives and a few red peppers.

Next up: a hot minute (or five) in the brick oven.

And, ta-da! Almost instant deliciousness. There's something extra special about brick oven pizza...just the way the crust tastes is so good (and probably why there's a cult-like following of this type of pizza establishment across the metro).

And, allow me to say that having the freedom to pile on as much cheese as I wanted made it even better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Summer (Ha!) Bucket List Item No. 6: PIZZA FARM!!

Well, it might be mid November, but friends and I finally made it to the Pizza Farm in Stockholm, Wis., this week! That's right kids. Driving to Wisconsin for a magical dining experience on the farm.

People drive from miles around to spend their Tuesday nights at the farm - the only night they're open. It's out in the middle of nowhere...literally. But when you find it, you're in for a real treat. All ingredients are grown on-site and you're responsible for your own seating, utensils, beverages, name it. They provide the pizza, you provide the rest.

Apparently if you go in the real summer, you can wait hours for your very own 'za, despite the fact that it only takes about three minutes to cook in the brick oven. Go in November, though, and you'll find no wait!

The staff is incredibly friendly. Laid-back and happy to chat on a chilly Tuesday evening. Step-by-step, they walked us newbies through the process of placing our order and how to get around on the farm in the pitch black at 6:30 p.m. (oh, winter, how we love thee).

The short and sweet menu keeps you focused and you have the option to go half and half.

Before you know it, your pizza is making its way to the oven. I just couldn't stop taking pictures...which, they don't mind provided you don't use a flash and don't expect them to pose for them :)

Pizza in-hand, you make your way back out on the farm.

Another perk of going in November, you easily snag yourself a table in the chicken coop.

In fact, it was just the three of us cozied up by a fire. There were a few others ordering pizza, but I think most people were getting take-out. In fact, I'm nearly certain we were the only ones that drove 1.5 hours that night.

Now, let's get to the really good part. We ordered half Italian sausage and half roasted squash. The sausage half (happy pigs, as the sign said) included kalamata olives, sweet peppers, sweet onion, roasted tomato, garlic and fresh mozzarella. And the squash half had chile paste, sauteed spinach, sweet onion and garlic. Both halves were served atop a thick and delicious handmade crust.

I loved, loved, loved the crust. And this comes from someone who typically favors the thin, crispy, crunchy variety. I was also delighted by the sausage half. I love pizza packed with cheese and tasty vegetables. The squash side was very interesting and enjoyable. It was a little spicy for this wimp, but I was glad we ventured to try something out of the ordinary.

Before we left, we already started making plans to come back next summer. I really do hope to make it back, especially so I can actually see what the farm really looks like. And, so I'll have even more photos to share here, too!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween Festivities

Hard to believe it's been a week (and some change) since Halloween weekend already. It was a fun weekend spent out of town with friends and a quick pit stop with family on the way back home.

In keeping with my tradition to dress up as an insect (originally a friend's idea that it would be rather precious for me to go in a child-like costume), I was a butterfly this year. Previous years found me all dolled up as a lady bug and then as a bumble bee.

Since crafty isn't really a word people would generally use to describe me, I took baby steps in my costume creation...which involved a lot of glitter. Here's my little DIY mask-making project, starting with a plain black mask.

Then using a paper towel to smear silver glitter puff paint all across the mask.

And adding a few little details to jazz things up :) Maybe next year, I'll figure out how to up the ante and get real creative as a grasshopper or maybe even a walking stick!

Part of the Halloween party I went to included a potluck. My friends and I went with the oh-so-spooky (okay, maybe oh-so-yummy is more like it) dirt cake. Layers of chocolate pudding, crushed Oreos and whipped cream, topped with gummy worms.

Sunday morning, we stopped at a local favorite in Pine City - Nicoll's Cafe - for a nice greasy breakfast.

Nicoll's is one of those sweet little spots, filled to the brim on a Sunday morning (though admittedly cleared out by the time we left) and where families go after church to enjoy the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast special.

Not one for pancakes, however, I went with the ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and wheat toast. Boy, did it hit the spot. Pipin' hot and served just as you'd expect from your favorite small town diner.

And, since it was a weekend of indulgence, I treated myself to this little homemade sundae at grandma's house just before making my way back home to MSP Sunday night. Yummers.