Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Cakes, Cookies and Pastries" by Myra Waldo - Italian Rum Torte - Zuppa Inglese - Christmas

Date I made this recipe:  December 28, 2015 – "Christmas Dinner" Dessert        

Cakes, Cookies and Pastries – 187 great dessert recipes from around the world by Myra Waldo
Published by: Galahad Books
© 1962; Third Printing 1970
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Italian Rum Torte (Zuppa Inglese) – p. 56-57

When my husband tasted this recipe, his first words were "How much booze is in this thing, anyway?"

Answer:  a lot!  But it's Christmas and so it's time to cut loose and what better way with this boozy dessert? 

As you can see by the date, I didn't make this until Christmas was well and truly over but if you read my other holiday blog posts, you saw that I was just a tad exhausted and so didn't make anything on Christmas Day as I planned.  This was supposed to be the final ta-da to my holiday frittata and holiday pork stew (both recipes from Martha Stewart) but I just didn't get there.  Still, Christmas lasts well past its sell-by date of December 25th and so I had time.

I've written about cookbook author, Myra Waldo before and have five of her cookbooks (out of a dozen or so) in my collection.  She started writing cookbooks in the 1950's as well as a few travel guides.  The artwork for her The Art of South American Cookery is still one of my favorites and I quite enjoyed the recipe I made for the blog as well.

This book is pretty compact – 119 pages – but it provides a nice variety of delicious pastries for you to enjoy.  I was sorely tempted to make the "Frozen Eggnog Pie" on page 87 but at the very last minute, switched it out for the rum torte.  On the booze meter, the eggnog pie only contained 2 tablespoons cognac or light rum whereas the rum torte lived up to its name with a whopping ¾ cup being used for the dish, and another ¼ reserved for the whipped cream topping.  My husband said that when he took the cover off the torte, he was almost knocked out by the fumes.  Slight exaggeration but you get the point. 

As the book title suggests, this book is filled with recipes for cakes and cookies as well as pastry consisting of tortes, macaroons, pies, tarts, other pastries, and frostings, creams, glazes and fillings.  I tell you what, as between enjoying frosting and enjoying cake, I am a frosting gal and so I might just make up a batch of the Seven-Minute Frosting (and variations) found on page 114 just for the heck of it.  I love me some seven-minute frosting!

Assuming you do not make your own ladyfingers (and I could have but chose not to), then your only task in this very easy recipe is to keep an eye on your custard and allow enough time for it to cook, gently, to creamy and silky perfection.  And then get out your booze, pour some for the recipe and a lot more for yourself and congratulate yourself on making a recipe that is sure to impress if not inebriate you and your guests for the holidays. 

Italian Rum Torte (Zuppa Inglese) – makes one 11-inch deep pie
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
36 lady fingers
1 cup rum
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Sift the cornstarch, salt and sugar into a saucepan.  Gradually beat in milk, then the egg yolks.  Cook over low heat, mixing steadily, until thickened and smooth, but don't boil the mixture.  Remove from the heat and beat in the vanilla.  Strain if there are any lumps.  Cool.

Line the bottom of an 11-inch deep pie plate closely with some lady fingers; pour ¼ cup rum over it.  (Ann's Note:  If you don't have the right sized pie plate, try a similarly sized casserole or baking pan.)  Covered with half the cooled custard.

Make another layer of lady fingers (reserving some for the top), sprinkle with ¼ cup rum, spread remaining custard over it and cover with remaining lady fingers.  Sprinkle with ¼ cup rum. 

Cover and chill for 3-4 hours.  Just before serving, pour the remaining rum over the top, and cover with the cream whipped with the confectioners' sugar.

"The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook" - Holiday Frittata - Christmas

Date I made this recipe:  Saturday, December 26th (intended for Christmas morning)

The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook – A Collection of Favorite Holiday Recipes from the editors of Martha Stewart Living
Published by:  Oxmoor House
ISBN:  0-8487-2739-8
Recipe:  Holiday Frittata – p. 82

If some of Martha Stewart is good, more is better, right?  So what if I just made a Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives by Martha Stewart for Christmas dinner.  It was from a completely different cookbook so that makes it A-okay to make!

Originally, I perused this cookbook looking for recipes for our annual holiday party but nothing leapt out at me.  And let's face it, some of Martha's recipes and long and involved and I don't "do" long and involved.  I like my recipes short and sweet and without much fuss and so for sure, this ruled out the complicated "Birch de Noel" (also known as "Buche de Noel" a/k/a Chocolate Yule Log) starting on page 358.  The basic Yule log is not too difficult to make but my gosh, the accompanying meringue mushrooms are another story altogether.  And only Martha would spend hours carefully drawing lines under the mushroom cap to resemble the actual mushroom top.  And then of course only Martha would dust the meringue mushrooms so perfectly with cocoa to make them look like they were just picked from her back yard.

I am not Martha.  I do not do Yule logs therefore, I do not also make meringue mushrooms.

What I did do though, was to make her Holiday Frittata recipe because it was easy.  But Martha would have likely failed me big time because instead of making it on Christmas morning as intended, I made it for Sunday dinner.  Because I can. 

Actually, Andy ended up doing most of the cooking on this thing.  I roasted the red pepper because I am very good at that (having a gas stovetop makes all the difference), and I chopped the vegetables and mixed everything but then had him do the heavy lifting on actually making the frittata figuring that if Martha inquired later as to how it went, he could tell her he screwed up, not me.  Not that Martha would call because we don't know her from Adam, but I always feel her lurking in the kitchen when making her recipes.  Happily, the frittata came out great and it was very good (because of course it was) and so we dodged a Martha bullet once again.

If you are in a Martha mood for breakfast items, you might also want to consider her "Frittata with Sausage and Pecorino" recipe on the same page as the Holiday Frittata.  Same instructions, different ingredients.

As is de rigueur (good manners) with Martha, she includes several menus to give you guidance over the holidays but feel free to pick and choose which items you want and for what holiday occasion.  Just don't tell her I told you that because she'll likely be mad at me and I don't want Martha mad at me.

Here then, is the perfect and I do mean perfect, Martha Stewart Holiday Frittata with the perfect mix of yummy "fillings" such as red bell pepper and goat cheese, made perfectly by my perfect husband, Andy, on a perfectly good night after Christmas when all through the house we were exhausted and so we made breakfast for dinner.  It's the new "thing" you know and I do believe Martha would approve although if she doesn't she can damn well come over to our house next Christmas morning and make this herself!

Holiday Frittata – serves 6
1 red bell pepper
12 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
¾ cup sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only (about 1 small bunch)
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
½ tablespoon butter
½ tablespoon olive oil
2 small red potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick

Ann's Notes:  I thought a dozen eggs was a bit much, but it was just right.  Also, I am not fond of tarragon but probably could have used basil instead.  It would have been cheaper than buying fresh tarragon.  And finally, I almost never garnish anything I'm serving and this is likely to earn me a major Martha demerit but I like living life on the edge.

Roast red pepper over a gas flame or under a broiler until blackened.  Place in a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let steam 5 minutes.  Peel and seed, then cut into ¼-inch-wide-strips.

"One Pot - From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living" - Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives - Christmas

Date I made this recipe:  December 24, 2015 for Christmas Day dinner

One Pot From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living – 120+ easy meals from your skillet, slow cooker, stockpot, and more
Published by:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN:  978-0-307-95441-1
Recipe:  Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives – p. 25 ("One Pot, Four Ways Pork Stew" – p. 24 and 25).

So, the backstory:  I had my eye on this book but generally don't buy newer cookbooks as I don't have the shelf space.  Instead, I often get the book from the library and then if it passes muster, I put it on the "buy" list, the purchase often happening years later and often at a discount.

But Martha is different.  After my library perusal was over, I decided I should buy it, mainly because my own rule of blogs:  If you post it, you should own it.  It's my own rule and I could break it if I wanted to (I'm very flexible!) but I wanted to finish out the year on a high note and with a clean conscience. 

And so it came to pass that Martha Stewart's One Pot cookbook is now part of my collection, acquired just so I could make this stew for Christmas.  Well, the stew and possibly one more dish, thereby breaking my second, self-imposed rule of blogs:  Thou shalt only make one recipe per book. 

By the time I made the decision to purchase the book though, we were days away from Christmas and so I had to hustle to find a copy of it from a bookstore.  Martha is always popular, you know.  Thankfully, the Barnes and Noble downtown Minneapolis store had a copy and so I grabbed it. Never mind that I had to drive and park downtown, I was on a mission.  I hope Martha appreciates this.

The recipe I selected for our Christmas Day repast was the very delicious Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives.  It was easy enough that I could have made it Christmas evening but something prompted me to make it on Christmas Eve while I was making Christmas Eve dinner and then reheat it Christmas evening and I'm glad I did because I was feeling a bit under the weather Christmas Day and did not have the energy to make the (Martha Stewart) Holiday Frittata I planned for breakfast nor did I have the energy to make this from scratch.  Thankfully, I had enough energy to push the button on the microwave.  Besides, everybody knows that stew tastes better the next day!

Now, it is not often that I dare to diss Martha because well, she's Martha after all, but this recipe – pork stew, four ways – was hard to follow.  The main recipe featured is that of Pork Stew with Root Vegetables and all the ingredients listed are for that and then the instructions to make the pork stew with root vegetables followed.  Then on the next page, she listed all the substitutions but not in a list.  Instead, she wrote things like "In step 1, replace leek and thyme with 1 sliced onion, 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, and 1 dried bay leaf."  And so I found myself flipping back and forth to see what the root vegetable instructions were compared to the fennel with olives and then while shopping, had to double-check to make sure I got all of the right ingredients.

I am going to have to "ding" Martha for making me work so hard.  My preferred way to write this is to list all the ingredients and substitute ingredients in one big list and then add clear instructions for each stew.  Yes, Martha, this takes up more pages but your way drove me crazy.  I'm sorry.  (By the way, the other three pork stew recipes are:  Pork Stew with Root Vegetables, Pork Stew with Potatoes and Rosemary, and Pork Stew with Asparagus and Peas, all found on pages 24 and 25.)

The stew though, was really good although for the first time ever, I didn't taste it at all, instead putting it in the refrigerator after it cooled along with the remains of my Christmas Eve pasta dish.  The thing is, these two dishes paired really well together but I didn't plan to serve them together until my Christmas Day intentions went awry. 

As to the "one-pot" recipes, Martha breaks them out by "Dutch Oven;" "Slow Cooker;" "Skillet & Sauté Pan;" "Roasting Pan & Baking Dish;" "Pressure Cooker;" "Stockpot" and then even throws in some Dessert recipes that aren't necessarily made in one pot but by this point, who cares? If Martha wants to include a recipe for Molten Chocolate Cupcakes, then Martha gets to because again, she's Martha.

Whenever you make this recipe, it's delicious and relatively easy to put together.  The hardest part for me was finding the right amount of pork shoulder roast (most I found weighed way more than I needed) but once you get that right, it's smooth sailing from that point on.

Happy Holidays and Happy Cooking, Everyone!

Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives – serves 4
1 ½ pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 sliced onion
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed with their juice
2 heads fresh fennel, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Season pork with salt and pepper.  In a small Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium high.  Working in batches, add the pork and cook until browned, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer to a plate.  Add remaining oil, the onion, fennel seeds, and bay leaf.  Cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute.

Add the white wine and bring to a boil for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and juices and pork and bring back to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cook, partially covered, until pork is tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Add fennel and olives, and return to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer; cook, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 25 to 30 minutes more.

Stir in parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

"Southern Italian Cooking" - Baked Bisceglie Pasta (similar to lasagna) for Christmas Eve

Date I made this recipe:  December 24, 2015 – Christmas Eve

Southern Italian Cooking:  Family Recipes from The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by Jo Bettoja
Published by:  Bantam Books
ISBN:  0-553-07287-0
From my mother's cookbook collection.  This was given to her by my dad for their anniversary in 1993.
Recipe:  Baked Bisceglie Pasta (a lasagna made with rigatoni instead of lasagna sheets) – p. 232-233

At the risk of repeating myself, my family has always had a pasta dinner for Christmas Even and no way was I breaking that chain this year.  And that's despite the fact that I had Italian food the night before at a local Italian restaurant with my brother and sister-in-law who were in town visiting.  For the record, there is no such thing as too much Italian food.

Given our family tradition, it was rather nice to see my mother's handwriting in the front of the book indicating that this was an anniversary present from my dad.  The holidays are always just a little bit off because they aren't here to celebrate with us anymore so it's important to me that I continue on with our Italian fare.

Because the holidays are so busy – and this year especially with my brother and sister-in-law visiting – I am glad I made the sauce and the meatballs for this dish a week in advance and then just froze them until I needed them.  I even bought the mortadella on a whim one day a while back and when I saw that it was needed for this recipe, I froze that as well.  Mortadella is basically Italian bologna and I love it although I don't get it too often.  Maybe this was a sign?

This dish is a basic lasagna but made with rigatoni.  The layers for this dish are comprised of sauce made with meat and prosciutto; mozzarella; chopped mortadella and tiny meatballs.  I know some Italian families wouldn't dream of making a lasagna without meatballs but we were not one of those families.  And the meatballs were only okay – a little too soft for my taste but hey, you mix them in with the other layers and they were fine.  If I made this again though, I think I'd use my own family meatball recipe.

And speaking of the recipes, there were many, many good recipes from which to choose in this book, highlighting the various regions of southern Italy as well as Sicily.  Swordfish and other fish are extremely popular in Sicily but we never, ever had that when we visited my Sicilian grandmother who lived in New Jersey.  It might have been that its popularity never reached as far as the US or it might have been because it was harder to find in US oceanic waters than in Sicily but regardless, never once did it grace our table.  Other Sicilian dishes though, like caponata, were family favorites. There's a recipe in this book for caponata using artichokes which is not something we were used to but it sounded delicious.  There are also lots of dishes using oranges and lemons and eggplant, all of which are found in southern Italy and Sicily in abundance.

For my menu, I kept it simple and just made the pasta.  And even though I made and froze a few ingredients, I still had my hands full making the pasta, dicing the cheese and the mortadella and just generally getting organized.  And we loved the dish save for one thing:  it got too browned on top.  The recipe doesn't say to cover the dish but you should or else you'll suffer the same fate as we did. 

I should also mention that at the same time I was making this dish, I was also cooking a pork stew with tomatoes, olives and fennel from a Martha Stewart cookbook to serve the next day.  I may not be a Chopped-quality chef, but damned if I can't handle making two dishes at the same time!

The note for this recipe says that this dish is part of a dinner to celebrate the Feast of the Three Saints.  I must say that despite having attended Catholic grade school, I had no idea that there was a feast day for this (although heaven knows, we celebrated every other feast day known to man), nor did I know the three saints for whom this day is celebrated. 

Enter Wikipedia.  According to Wiki, the three saints are Alfio, Filadelpho and Cirino.  (Never heard of them.)  According to Catholic legend, these three brothers were persecuted by the Romans (pre-Christianity) after refusing to worship pagan gods, were killed and were recognized as martyrs/saints.  Who knew?  I have no idea why this particular dish commemorates their feast day but the author said so and so there you have it. It's never a good idea to go up against a fellow paisano!

Even though the Three Saints Feast Day does not fall on Christmas (competing with the birth of Christ is never a good idea), it sounded like a good Christmas Eve dinner so I made it and so should you.

Buon Vigilia di Natale!  (Happy Christmas Eve)

Baked Bisceglie Pasta (Bisceglie is a region in southern Italy) – serves 8 to 10
For the ragu:
¼ cup olive oil
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1-1/2 ounces prosciutto (I think slice), finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ pound ground beef
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 quart tomato puree
For the meatballs:
½ pound ground beef
½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
6 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
To assemble the dish:
1 pound rigatoni
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cpound mortadella, finely chopped
¾ pound mozzarella cheese, finely chopped (about 2-3/4 cups)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Make the ragu:  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, preferably terra-cotta.  (Ann's Note:  Oh, darn, I'm all out of terra-cotta saucepans!)  Add the vegetables, prosciutto, salt and pepper.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown.  Add the ground beef and brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, mixing well, and the tomato puree.  Bring back to a boil and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring every now and then.  Season with salt and pepper.  (The ragu can be prepared the day before.)  (Ann's Note:  I made it at least a week in advance and froze it.)

Make the meatballs:  Mix together the meat, pecorino, bread crumbs, parsley, and eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Make ¾-inch meatballs.  Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the meatballs in 2 batches over moderately high heat.  Drain on paper towels.  Reserve.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400.

Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and dress with half the Parmesan.  Add 1 cup of the ragu and mix.

Assemble the dish:  Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of the ragu on the bottom of the prepared dish.  Put one third of the pasta over the ragu, then half the mortadella, half the meatballs, a third of the ragu, and a third of the Parmesan.  Grind pepper over the top.  Make another layer of one third rigatoni and the remaining mortadella, mozzarella, and meatballs.  Spoon over another third of the ragu and sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan.  Add another grinding of pepper.  Spread the remaining pasta, ragu, and Parmesan on top.  Bake for 45 minutes.*  Let the pasta rest at least 15 minutes before serving.

*Ann's Note:  The instructions do not say to cover with foil while baking but you must otherwise your top pasta layer will be overly brown.  If you want, you can probably remove it for the final 15 minutes.

"The Four Seasons Cookbook" - Cheddar Cheese Soup for the Winter Solstice (December 21, 2015)

Date I made this recipe:  December 21, 2015 – Winter Solstice!

The Four Seasons Cookbook by Charlotte Adams; Special Consultant:   James Beard.
Published by Crescent Books
© 1971
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used Books
Recipe:  Cheddar Cheese Soup – p. 95

Reader, I was almost stumped on what to make, if anything, for the Winter Solstice when I read an article in New York Magazine that the venerable Four Seasons Restaurant would be closing soon and relocating to another site, as yet to be determined.  Well this news will likely cause a cosmic shift in the world, if not the local NYC restaurant industry because the Four Seasons is so well know and I cannot recall a time it didn't exist.  Not that I've eaten there, but just always knew of it.  Well, seasons change and time marches on, does it not?

The article though, prompted me to search out this cookbook and what a great cookbook this was for today's Winter Solstice.  I do not enjoy winter, not one little bit and I really loathe the darkness, especially this year when we've had at least four solid weeks of nothing but cloud cover, but the solstice marks the end of our shortened days and this "seasonal" event should be celebrated.  And may I just say that the brightness, if you will, of the cheddar cheese used in the soup made me think of the sun and the coming of more daylight and so it was just the perfect storm of cookbook and recipe.

As you might imagine, this cookbook is divided into recipes fitting the four seasons and really, aside from a few recipes, you could probably enjoy any of these at any time of year.  It was really just a happy accident that the cheese soup ended up in the "winter" selections, especially since the remaining recipes were not ones that I would generally make including "Sturgeon and Caviar," or even "Caviar Blinis" for that matter.  It's not that I am opposed to caviar but I'm sure not going to send you on a goose chase to find it!

Also off the list was "Filet of Smoked Eel, Sauce Verte" (p. 87)  Need I say more?  There were also plenty of recipes for lobster and one for "Marrow Soufflé in Crust" which honestly, didn't sound too bad but I would have likely sounded very pretentious if I posted it here so I didn't.

In fact, a good majority of dishes in this book were rather lofty and ambitious but happily, each season is balanced out with dishes you and I would make.  That said, this is The Four Seasons Cookbook so if you were expecting to find your basic Tater Tot Casserole or Mac and Cheese, this is not the cookbook for you.

Now I must confess that I altered this very easy dish just a bit and that was by adding some boiled potatoes to it.  On its own, this is more of a thin broth soup than it is something hale and hearty and besides, I love potatoes in cheese soup and so I added them after cooking them in a little bit of broth.  Perfect!

And so we had our solstice dinner and all was well with the world although given the cloud cover, we have yet to see any evidence of our creeping daylight hours.  Oh well—we're in it to win it and so we can wait.  And wait.  And wait and wait and wait.  Until spring.

Happy Winter Solstice.

Cheddar Cheese Soup – serves 6
3 tablespoon minced onion
3 tablespoons grated carrot
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ pound sharp cheddar cheese (grated) 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (garnish)

Ann's Note:  To make your life a little easier, you can "mince" and "grate" your onion and carrots in a mini food processor. 

Sauté the onion and carrot in butter over low heat for 10 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, mustard, and paprika, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Combine the milk and cornstarch.  Stir into the first mixture and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the cheese and stir until it is melted.  Season and serve with chopped parsley on top.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Boston Tea Parties - Recipes from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston" - Celebrating the 242nd anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

Date I made this recipe:  December 16, 2015 – Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Parties – Recipes from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Published by:  MFA Publications, a division of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
ISBN:  0-87846-5596-6
Purchased from Barnes and Noble Used Books, Roseville, MN
Recipe:  Tangy Bourbon Mixed Nuts – p. 158

I must say, the artwork on the cover of this book – artist Mary Cassat's "The Tea," cracks me up.  I mean, look at how refined these ladies look, how proper (please note the pinky pose).  I'm pretty sure the Boston Tea Party– as in the tossing of tea over the sides of ships –  242 years ago, was not this refined.

I studied a lot of history back in the day, first in high school and then in college (it was my second minor), but you know, this is one of those events that didn't stick with me even though it should because without it, we wouldn't have separated from Britain and gained our independence a few years later.  At least I know that much even if specific details are sketchy.

What I do know for sure is that tea was involved.  The Brits do so love their tea, celebrating it daily.  There's your regular tea time (not to be confused with golf tee times), and then there's also high tea which I gather is a big event, featuring fancy sandwiches and fancy desserts and fancy whatnots and tea that is brewed the right way which is to say the British way of using scalding hot water and letting the tea steep.  The use of something so gauche and common Lipton's tea bags is highly frowned upon.

In the U.S., we have never been a nation of using scalding hot water, perhaps in defiance of the British rule, and after the famous McDonald's scalding hot coffee lawsuit, you would be hard pressed to find many restaurants that will do justice to a "cuppa."  And even coffee and tea establishments have dared to serve lukewarm tea and coffee which is a mortal sin (I'm pretty sure) given that's what they do all day.  In fact, the cups from one of the local places I frequent says "Our coffee is always hot" and I just want to impress upon them the danger in making false claims because my coffee is not always hot.  If it was, I wouldn't have a tongue left, but details, details.

I don't generally drink tea because it is hard to find decaffeinated tea that floats my boat out there in the world at large.  Sure, there are your herbal teas, but frankly drinking some of them is the equivalent of sucking on a rose bush and that won't do.  Recently though, I found some decaffeinated green tea and so have been drinking that from time to time although I can't say I do somersaults over it.  But then again, I'm the gal who grew up drinking Lipton so what do I know?

So anyway, here is your historical recap of the auspicious Boston Tea Party: three ships moored in the Boston Harbor lost their tea supplies in a taxation protest, the Boston Tea Party became famous as did "rogues" like Samuel Adams (he of beer fame!) and Paul Revere, our country embarked on a course of independence, Boston became famous for tea and lovely museums and beautiful scenery and eventually, the Boston Red Sox and the Green Monster, and all was well with the world.  I love it when things work out this way (although I am a lifelong Yankees fan – sorry, Boston).

Now then, in addition to tea recipes and instructions, this book contains recipes for tea sandwiches, tea breads, all kinds of sweets as well as a section for potpourri which is where I found this nut recipe.  I decided on something simple and nutty because having just put on our annual holiday bash, I was not in the mood to make (sandwich) spreads or sweet treats so these nuts seemed like a nice compromise.  All the recipes sounded good and looked pretty easy so if you are in a sandwich or sweet kind of mood, there are plenty of recipes from which to choose. 

And then there's the artwork – drawings, photos, clay figurines, etc. – that are fun to look at.  My favorite though, has to be the very unique tea table found on page 6.  The wooden table is carved into 16 resting spaces for a tea cup and saucer.  It looks like a pool table only smaller and without holes – very clever!  Plus, it's sort of the precursor to the cup holder in our cars so there's that. 

As to the making of the nut mixture, let's just say it was as rife with peril and injury.  First, let me share that while making some holiday cookies, I had to shell quite a few pistachios and a good portion of pistachios flew all over my kitchen while doing so.  I was quite peeved and vowed to buy them shelled ("Give me shelled or give me nothing") from now on.  Plus, I shredded a few fingernails and well that irks, doesn't it?

Weeks later, I made this recipe for mixed nuts and the recipe had two main steps.  First, I was to boil some water, add the nuts, then cook the nuts for 1 minute.  And then while I was boiling the water, I decided to start step 2 which was to reduce ¼ cup bourbon to 3 tablespoons and I did that, no problem. 

So I turned off my gas burner where the bourbon once boiled and then tried to add the nuts to the boiling water on the next burner, but my bag broke and nuts scattered all over the floor and all over the burner I had just turned off.  But I forgot this important detail and so started grabbing nuts off the burner and of course burned my hand in the process.  And then hopped up and down on top of the nuts that fell on the floor, thereby crunching them.  Meanwhile, the pot kept boiling away, just waiting for me to get my act together from my near-emergency.  It was a total comedy of errors moment if there ever was one.

So I stuck my hand under cold water for a couple of minutes (thankfully, it didn't blister) and then got a broom and swept the floor, then stuck the remaining nuts into the water, boiled them for a minute, took them off the stove, strained and drained them and then went to my computer to tell my good friends, The G's, the latest saga of Woman versus Nuts.  It's a TV show in the making.

Now then, if you survive the boiled nuts portion of our program, the rest of this recipe is easy.  You mix part of the coating (sugar, bourbon, Worcestershire sauce, Angostura bitters* and corn oil) with the nuts, bake that mixture for 35 minutes, then roll all that in cumin and cayenne pepper and salt and pepper.  And...done!

And now a few words about Angostura bitters.  A few drops of this concoction is added to drinks like Manhattans and since only a few drops are needed in drinks like that or recipes like this, I did not want to buy an entire bottle because I know it would sit and sit and sit.  Instead, I went online and found a recipe that most closely approximates what you need and will post it below.  Basically, you combine either rum or vodka with a few spices added to it and then some lemon or orange to add more flavor.  And I must say, it worked out pretty well and I saved myself a couple of bucks to boot!

And since the tea party was all about saving money in the form of no taxation, I think that is a fabulous way to show my support all these 242 years later.  I am just that kind of patriot.  And this is a really good mixed nut dish.

Enjoy your tea party!

Tangy Bourbon Mixed Nuts – Yield:  4 cups
1 pound unsalted assorted nuts
¼ cup bourbon
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon Angostura bitters* (Ann's Note:  see recipe below)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon corn oil
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin

*To make your own bitters, take 1-2 tablespoons of vodka or rum and add a sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mace.  Then add finely diced lemon or orange peel, or, in the alternative, a splash of orange extract (I had this on hand).  The recipe I found also said to add finely diced prunes but I didn't have any.  If you are really in a pinch, you can just add more Worcestershire but I wanted to at least attempt to make this on my own and did.  (Recipe adapted from one I found on

"Christmas 101;" "Emeril's Potluck;" "Holiday Fare - Favorite Williamsburg Recipes" - Holiday party fare - appetizers and cookies

Dates I made these recipes:  Week of November 30, 2015 – Holiday Party Fare!

Christmas 101 (revised 2007 edition) by Rick Rodgers, Author of Thanksgiving 101
Published by:  William Morrow
ISBN:  978-0-06-122734-9
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used books, Barnes and Noble, St. Paul, MN
Recipe:  Stilton and Walnut Balls – p. 11
Recipe: Mocha Nut Crinkles – p. 126-127

Emeril's Potluck – Comfort Food with a Kicked-Up Attitude by Emeril Lagasse
Published by:  William Morrow
ISBN:  0-68-816431-5
Purchased at Goodwill
Recipe:  Kicked-Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip – p. 33-34

Holiday Fare – Favorite Williamsburg Recipes by John R. Gonzales
Published by:  The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia
ISBN:  0-87935-196-9
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Cheese and Chive Crisps – p. 14

'Tis the season to be jolly and, of course, to get things going by making and then eating holiday party food.  It's a good thing that calories don't count at this time of year (wink, wink) because these recipes have just a few grams of fat.  Just a few.  But they are all delicious and if they are delicious then nothing else matters.

Although Andy and I made all these recipes for our annual Mistletoe Madness© holiday open house, you don't need to plan a party as an excuse to make any of these for your own bad selves.  You may need to cut the recipes down as I did with most of the recipes but that all depends on what else you are serving.  We typically make a couple of hot appetizers, several spreads and cheese balls and then about a half dozen sweet treats.  And although in the early years of party planning, I relied heavily on my cookbook collections for party food recipes, these days I mix and match cookbook recipes with those found on the internet or in magazines.  It's all about what we're in the mood to eat.

If you saw our entire menu, then you would see why I joked to friends that this year's fare was "The Year of Meat and Cheese" because recipes either fell into one camp or the other (save for dessert).  We didn't plan it that way but somehow we compiled a plethora of recipes in these categories and didn't see any reason to hold back.  And so for your consideration in the "cheese" category, we have the Stilton and Walnut Ball (made with either Tawny Port or, as we did it, Madeira), Emeril Lagasse's Kicked-Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip, containing brie, Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheese, and the cheese and chive crisps, made with sharp cheddar and Parmesan, as well as Cheese and Chive Crisps.  You're welcome, National Dairy Council!  And then for good measure, we threw in the Mocha Nut Crinkles.

Let's start with the Mocha Nut Crinkles.  I've made variations of these before and so was dismayed when the first batch I made came out chewy instead of light and...crinkly.  I checked over all my ingredients and determined the problem to be that they were chilled too long (the recipe calls for 2 hours). Or, as Andy and I like to joke, "chillaxed."  This also happened with another refrigerator cookie recipe I made for pistachio cookies.  I ended up remaking and re-chilling both cookie doughs and the results were much more to my satisfaction.  Prior to this, I told friends that I was going to rename the cookies Mocha Nut "Chews."  (As an aside, this is why I try to make as many party items in advance so I can fix anything that goes wrong.)

Runner-up in the "degree of difficulty" contest was Emeril's spinach dip which is made using fresh spinach that you blanch and then chop.  Frankly, that part was a little messy and so I think that when I make this again, I'm going to just use frozen.  But it's so very "Food Network" to use fresh spinach (better if you grow it yourself) that I stuck to the plan, Stan.  My only tiny complaint is I made it the night before, then reheated it in the oven but it wasn't very hot so I microwaved it for a few minutes with fantastic results:  all the cheese melted and it went from just "so-so" to "fantastic" just like that.  I'm definitely going to make a note of that for next time.

The Cheese and Chive Crisps were very easy to make and very good but the hand's down winner of the "no degree of difficulty" contest was the Stilton and Walnut Cheese Balls.  I mean, how hard is it to mix cream cheese, Stilton cheese and liquor and then roll it in walnuts?  Not very hard at all, at all!  And when it comes to party time, Andy and I both want more of the "not very hard at all" recipes than we do "incredible degree of difficulty" which is why we have eliminated some of the following from our menu:  anything fried, anything with phyllo dough (hate that stuff – what a mess), anything to be made in a wok, anything with 22 steps that needs to be done the morning of, seafood (messy and stinky) and anything requiring a fork.  In other words, a short list!

All of these dishes should land on your holiday entertaining short list.  Or your Super Bowl party short list.  Or your birthday party short list.  Or heck, your "who needs a stinking list" list.  Enjoy!

Stilton and Walnut Balls – makes 12 to 16 appetizer servings
Can be made up to 5 days ahead
8 ounces Stilton or other blue cheese, rind removed, at room temperature
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons tawny port (Ann's Note:  we didn't have that on hand so I used Madeira)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Water crackers for serving
Cored, sliced, ripe Bosc pears, tossed with lemon juice to discourage browning, for serving

In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, mash the Stilton and cream cheese together until smooth.  Work in the port and pepper.  Place a piece of plastic wrap on the work surface, and scrape the cheese mixture into the center of the wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to form the cheese mixture into a ball (it will be soft).  Refrigerate until the ball is chilled and firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, unwrap the ball and roll in the chopped nuts.  Transfer to a platter and serve with the crackers and pears.

(Emeril Lagasse's) Kicked-Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip – makes 4 to 8 servings
Two 10-ounce packages fresh spinach, well rinsed and stems trimmed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup (6 ½ ounces) ½-inch cubes Brie cheese, rind removed
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
One 6 ½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
4 strips crisp fried bacon, chopped
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for topping)
Assorted chips, such as pita chips, tortilla chips, and bagel chips, for dipping

Ann's Note:  Emeril wants you to start by preheating the oven to 350 and greasing a 9-inch round ovenproof chafing dish and setting that aside but this dish takes some time to assemble.  I preheated my oven about halfway through.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Add the spinach in batches and cook until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain and refresh under cold running water.  Squeeze the spinach to remove excess water and chop.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a light roux, about 2 minutes.  Add the milk and cream in a steady stream, and coo, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. [Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9-inch round ovenproof chafing dish.]  Add the cooked spinach and lemon juice and stir to incorporate.  Add the cubed Brie and grated Monterey Jack cheeses, artichoke hearts, and bacon and stir well.  Remove from the heat and pour into the prepared dish.  Top with the Parmesan cheese and bake until bubbly, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve hot with chips.

Ann's Note:  If you are not serving right away, put this dish in the microwave for about 2 minutes until cheese melts.

Cheese and Chive Crisps – makes about 36  (Ann's Note:  the dough needs to chill for at least an hour before baking.)
½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup all-purpose flour

Beat the cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, butter, chives, cayenne pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth.

Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon just until the flour is evenly incorporated.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough evenly and shape by hand into two 1-inch-diameter logs.  Wrap the logs in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the logs into ½-inch thick disks and place them on an ungreased baking sheet.  Using the back of a fork dusted with flour, gently push down on the disks to partially flatten them.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the undersides are nicely browned.

Serve warm or allow the crisps to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.

Mocha Nut Crinkles – makes 4 dozen
Make ahead:  The dough must be chilled for at least 2 hours.  The cookies can be baked up to 1 week ahead.  Ann's Note:  If you can't bake them within 2 hours, the dough might become too cold, making for chewy rather than light and fluffy.

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
5 tablespoons milk
1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder (the author says if you can't find this, substitute either ½ teaspoon coffee extract or regular instant coffee)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
¾ cup confectioners' sugar for rolling

In the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the water and cool the chocolate until tepid.

In a glass measuring cup, heat 1 tablespoon of the milk in a microwave on High until boiling.  Add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve.  Stir in the remaining ¼ cup milk.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.  In another large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer set at high speed, beat together the granulated sugar and shortening until well combined.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.  Reduce the mixers speed to low.  Mix in the melted chocolate.  A third at a time, alternately beat in the flour and milk mixtures.  Stir in the walnuts.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 2 hours.

Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Place the confectioners' sugar in a small bowl.  Using 1 tablespoon for each, roll the dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll the balls in confectioners' sugar to coat, then place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with nonstick baking pads.

Bake, switching the position of the baking sheets from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking, until the cookies are set with crisp edges, about 15 minutes.  Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

"In & Out of the Kitchen in Fifteen Minutes or Less" by Anne Willan - Fifteen-Minute Minestrone

Date I made this recipe:  November 30, 2015

In & Out of the Kitchen in Fifteen Minutes or Less by Anne Willan
Published by:  Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
ISBN:  0-8478-1013-2
Recipe:  Fifteen-Minute Minestrone – p. 48

Even though my husband and I didn't come even close to stuffing ourselves this Thanksgiving, I was still in the mood for something quick, easy and refreshing and found it in this Fifteen-Minute Minestrone recipe from Anne Willan's cookbook.  Oddly enough, only two recipes in this book – the minestrone and a "Fifteen-Minute Fire Pot" – are the only two recipes in the book with a fifteen-minute moniker.  Not that this means anything, you understand, because all the recipes she included take "fifteen minutes or less"  of your time in the kitchen or the book wouldn't be named what it was named. At least we hope.  But do note, that while the recipes themselves may take a while to cook (like, e.g. the Roasted Root Vegetables with Nut recipe (p. 100) that takes 45-55 minutes, she fully intends for you to limit your time in the kitchen so as to relax, possibly with a glass of wine, while the oven does all the work. 

I must confess that I wasn't quite sure a minestrone soup made in fifteen minutes would come up to my high standards but I am happy to tell you it was delicious.  And we just felt so very healthy eating it to boot! 

I probably never should have doubted Anne Willan's prowess in the kitchen but I am ashamed to say that I did, even if for a brief moment.  I met Anne several years ago at a book signing and at that time, I knew of her from her work at The Greenbriar Hotel and Resort in West Virginia.  Not that I've ever eaten there, mind you, but I passed by it twice on travels through West Virginia

This cookbook has a nice variety of recipes, from fish to pastas, salads and the like.  All the photos looked pretty mouthwatering and if the taste of the minestrone was anything to go by, flavor is not lacking at all in these dishes.  I like that – fast and flavorful!  And if you really want to save time, each recipe contains an At-A-Glance set of truncated instructions should you not want to read the entire thing.

That said – you will need to allocate more than 15 minutes of your time to make the minestrone as there is some chopping and dicing to be done. Once you get that out of the way, the rest of the job involves opening cans and if it takes you more than 15 minutes to open cans, you need a new can opener!

Were it not for the fact that I limit myself to making only one recipe per cookbook one time only, I would certainly add this to my "make again" list. 

Fifteen-Minute Minestrone – serves 4
1 bay leaf
1 leek
3 celery stalks
2 tablespoons olive oil
6-ounce slice of country ham (Ann's note:  I bought a thick slice of ham from my grocery store's deli.  If you use non-deli ham, trim the sides to remove any excess fat.)
1 garlic clove
2 small zucchini
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup pasta bows (uncooked)
1 small can of plum tomatoes (8-ounce)
1 small can of white kidney beans (8-ounce)
R sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, to decorate
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

At-A Glance Instructions (full instructions are included)
Bring 1 quart water to boil with bay leaf in large covered soup pot.

Slice leeks and celery and wash.  Heat oil in frying pan, add sliced vegetables with pepper, and cover with foil.  Cook gently until soft.

Meanwhile, dice ham and add to pan.  Peel and chop garlic and add.

Trim, quarter, and slice zucchini.  Add to pot of boiling water some [freshly ground] pepper.  Stir in pasta and cover pan.

Drain tomatoes and add juice to soup.  Coarsely chop tomatoes then add.  Stir in beans, then add vegetables, ham, and garlic.

Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer 3-4 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, spoon into bowls, and top with parsley sprigs.  Served grated Parmesan separately.

"The Pumpkin Cookbook" - Pumpkin and Raisin Cheesecake for Thanksgiving

Date I made this recipe:  November 26, 2015 – Thanksgiving Day 2015

The Pumpkin Cookbook by Hamlyn (Publishing)
Published by:  Hamlyn (Publishing)
ISBN: 0-600-60383-0
Recipe:  Pumpkin and Raisin Cheesecake – p. 46

While I have never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie, my husband says he likes to have something of the pumpkin variety for dessert for Thanksgiving. Funny, I never took him for one of those "Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie" people but you learn something new every day.

Frankly, I am "over" this year's "pumpkin-goes-with-everything" craze that has been hitting grocery stores and coffee shops since – I swear – mid-August.  Starbucks led the way with promises of "pumpkin lattes, coming soon" while it was still quite warm and enjoyable outside and, it should be noted, SUMMER, and this just ticked me off.  And then one by one, other coffee shops followed suit and soon you couldn't step into a grocery store without someone wanting you to sample this simply divine pumpkin [fill in the blank) item, new for fall! 

I mean the ingredient was everywhere and in everything and given that it was, in fact, mid-August when this whole nonsense started, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was practically belligerent when going into a grocery store:  "NO, I don't want your damned pumpkin 'whatchamacallit'!  Get thee gone, you pumpkin Satan!" 

I fully expected to hear warning calls over the stores' PA system:  "Attention shoppers.  There's a crazed woman in Aisle 3, muttering about pumpkin.  We repeat, there's a crazed woman in Aisle 3.  Please clear the area."

But like I said above, my hubby wanted something pumpkin for T-Day (so predictable) that I had to gird my loins and gear up to make something of the pumpkin variety.  And so I decided that this year, I was going to find a fresh baking pumpkin (at Trader Joe's) and make something that would just dazzle us and make our Thanksgiving Day complete.

That "something" was today's recipe for Pumpkin and Raisin Cheesecake, upon which we pinned our Thanksgiving Day hopes and dreams and I wish I didn't have to inform you that our dreams were dashed but they were.  Two problems:  1) the pumpkin flavor just didn't come through.  Call me spoiled, but I have never had a fresh pumpkin anything in my life and while I don't exactly love canned pumpkin, it works for me better than this.  And 2) missing from the Pumpkin and Raisin Cheesecake was anything resembling the "cheese" portion of our program.  This recipe does not use cream cheese and in my opinion, this is what killed it.  Instead, it used a pound of cottage cheese and some heavy cream and eggs and those ingredients did not produce the type of cheesecake we were used to. 

To add to our disappointment, our usual and customary turkey dinner takeouts, obtained from one of our favorite restaurants, did not come up to snuff.  And so there we were, sitting there all deflated by dinner and our pumpkin dessert and then to add to my angst, my Green Bay Packers lost their game against the Chicago Bears by four points after a valiant rally and I was all "Bah, Humbug" before we ever got to Black Friday, the unofficial start of Christmas. 

Although I would not make this particular recipe again, many in the book sounded really good like "Pumpkin and Root Vegetable Stew" and "Pumpkin Curry."   I have a feeling that pumpkin in a savory dish is better than a sweet dish but that could just be me. 

So.  Next year I think we're going to pass on doing the turkey takeout ("Let's all take a year off to course correct, shall we?") and if I simply must make something with pumpkin to satisfy my husband, I think I'll go back to using canned pumpkin.  I know, right?  I should be using fresh pumpkin like the Pilgrims (allegedly) but once bitten, twice shy.  We'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, thankfully (or should that be "Thank"fully), we are now done with this pumpkin nonsense and are now fully into our "Fa La La La Latte" and our "Gingerbread Latte" and whatnot for the Christmas season.  And no doubt by January, Starbucks will start touting some awful concoction for spring and summer (Kale latte, anyone?) and I will commence grumbling once again.  It's what I do and I do it well.

Since I am posting this blog after the fact (what a busy couple of weeks), I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving repast and your very own pumpkin "whatchamacallit!"

(By the way, all was not a total loss as the cheesecake crust was delicious but then again, what's not to like about gingersnaps and liqueur-soaked raisins!)

Pumpkin and Raisin Cheesecake – makes one 8"/9" springform pan
1 cup raisins
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (Grand Mariner)
6 ounces gingersnap cookies
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 pumpkin, about 14 ounces (Ann's Note:  check your grocery stories just after Halloween and make sure you buy a "sugar" pumpkin, suitable for cooking)
1 pound cottage cheese
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup superfine sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of ½ an orange
To serve:  lightly whipped and sweetened cream and caramelized orange zest slivers

Ann's Note:  If you buy the pumpkin early, peel, scoop out the seeds , cut into cubes and freeze until needed.

Put the raisins into a small bowl with the liqueur and leave to soak for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, lightly oil the sides of an 8-inch springform pan.  Put the cookies in a zip-top freezer bag and crush them with a rolling pin.  Ann's Note:  or put them in a Cuisinart and pulse them until crumbled.  Transfer to a bowl and add the melted butter.  Stir until evenly mixed.  Turn the mixture into the pan and pack down onto the base and slightly up the sides.  Ann's Note:  I used a 9-inch pan in which case, I didn't have much to pack to the sides, oh well.

Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and fibers from the pumpkin, then cut it into large wedges.  Put the wedges in a steamer over a pan of gently simmering water and cook for 15-20 minutes until the flesh is tender.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Put the cottage cheese in a food processor and blend for about 1 minute until completely smooth.  Scoop the pumpkin flesh into the processor and blend until smooth.  Add the eggs, cream, sugar, and orange zest and juice and blend briefly until smooth.

Scatter the raisins over the cookie base, stirring any remaining liqueur into the cottage cheese mixture.  Ladle the mixture over the base.

Bake the cheesecake in a preheated oven at 350F for 40 minutes, until the center fees just firm to the touch.  Leave it to cool in the pan, then chill until you are ready to serve.  Serve with lightly whipped and sweetened cream topped with caramelized orange zest slivers.