Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pinch's Thanksgiving Menu

I have the privilege of cooking for a baker's dozen this year and I'm positively giddy about it. Prep starts tomorrow, with making pie dough, pumpkin and pecan pie fillings, pâte sucrée, roasting butternut squash, poaching pears, and salting the turkey on my to do list. Thanksgiving chez Pinch is taking a village to pull off; borrowed items (tables, chairs, extra flatware) are coming in from all over town. I've never hosted a Bring Your Own Fork event. It will be merry, for sure.

Thanksgiving Menu

To Start
House Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Pear
Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree

The Dinner
Salted Roast Turkey with Gravy
Amazing Vegetarian Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Spicy Sweet Potato Fries
Refrigerator Rolls or Rosemary Raisin Rolls
Green Beans with Shallots and Pancetta

The Dessert
Pumpkin Pie (This is the pie dough recipe. I honestly use the filling recipe from the Libby's can, substituting half and half for the canned milk.)
Pecan Pie (check back soon for this recipe)
Warm Vanilla Poached Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving.

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To Hell with Healthy Cheesecake

I borrowed the headline to my Dessert menu from Caitlin Flanagan. I enjoyed her essay collection/book To Hell With All That and it seemed a fitting title for a menu that completely breaks from the nutritional goals of the previous courses.

There are several desserts I make my family that fit into the Pinch eating guidelines (which limit saturated and other unhealthy fats): Vanilla Poached Pears, Chewy Ginger Cookies, Blackberry Cobbler, and Amaretti Cookies, to name a few. Others simply do not fit. They earn a spot on the menu because life includes feasts. Not daily feasts, perhaps not even weekly or monthly ones. But each year brings cause for celebration and I don't think it's possible to adequately celebrate without dessert.

Which brings us to Cheesecake. When I told my sister the ingredients on my favorite cheesecake recipe she couldn't believe I even made it. One pound of cream cheese, one pound of ricotta cheese, one pound of sour cream! Mercy.

We're entering a season of feasting. Enjoy it.

Print recipe only here


1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 T flour
3 T cornstarch
2 eight-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese
15-ounces ricotta cheese
1 pint sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1 T vanilla extract

For the crust:
10 graham crackers or 1 1/2 cups crumbs
2 T sugar
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325°

Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.

Process graham crackers in a food processor until they are fine crumbs. Add sugar and pulse to combine. Add melted butter and pulse just to blend.

Empty crumbs into prepared pan and press onto bottom and up along sides. I use a measuring cup to press the crumbs into the edge of the pan. Refrigerate crust until ready to fill.

Make the cake filling:
Melt butter over low heat. Reserve.

Sift together flour and cornstarch and reserve.

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the ricotta and mix until smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl to make sure the cream cheese is well-blended.

Add the sugar in three parts, over about a minute of mixing time. Stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl as necessary.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.

Add the flour/constarch, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and mix well.

Add the melted butter and sour cream and mix just to combine, about 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for one hour.

At the end of the hour, turn off the heat (without opening the oven door) and let cake sit another hour.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

An hour before serving, remove cake from fridge and disengage spring. Cake should release easily. If not, run a knife around the edge.

If you like, brush the surface with raspberry jam and top with raspberries or strawberries. You can make a light glaze for the berries by warming seedless jam with some sugar syrup and painting it on the tops of the berries.

**Read here for a good refresher on metabolism, energy imbalance and the relationship between muscle mass and weight loss.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Warm Goat Cheese on Mixed Greens

Remember the late 80s when every restaurant had a warm goat cheese salad on the menu? Neither do I. The late 80s held more SAT prep and college visits than California cuisine for me.

Dating myself here makes me feel so young! This is way better than last week when the report Footloose is 25 years old made me feel like a prune of a lady.

Baked goat cheese on greens has been on the menu at Berkeley's Chez Panisse since the restaurant opened it's doors in 1971. It's a salad I enjoy this time of year, paired with autumnal accompaniments like roasted beets, walnuts and pear.

Warm Goat Cheese on Mixed Greens
Print recipe only here

Serves 4


6 cups mixed greens
8 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup bread crumbs mixed with fresh herbs, salt and pepper

For the dressing:

5-6 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
½ small clove garlic, pressed
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Also Wik (Optional):

2 beets, roasted, peeled and sliced
1-2 ripe pears, quartered, cored and sliced
Roasted walnuts or pecans


Preheat toaster oven to 350°

In a small bowl combine breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and some chopped fresh herbs if you have them.

Portion goat cheese and flatten into a disc.

Coat the goat cheese rounds in breadcrumbs and place on a baking tray (or refrigerate for later use).

Bake for 10-12 minutes. If using nuts, roast them now for 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine dressing ingredients.

Peel and slice beets or pear.

Remove goat cheese rounds from oven and reserve.

Toss greens in dressing and portion evenly among four plates.

Add beet or pear slices to each plate and scatter roasted nuts.

Add the goat cheese to each plate and serve immediately.

Click here to see Alice Waters' recipe.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Roasting on an Open Fire

This morning as Cold November Rain simultaneously fell and played on my iPhod I happily realized it won't be long until my mix of Holiday Classics takes to the home airwaves. It has been suggested to me that caroling is really only welcome between Thanksgiving and New Year's day. But it's November now. Soon Jack Frost will be nipping at my nose and I'll be cleared for caroling.

I love Christmas carols (the nose-nipping not so much). Christmas carols are the most appropriate way to express holiday cheer. Most carols, anyway. There's nothing appropriate about "Santa Baby," though love it I do.

If the market appearance of eggnog did not sufficiently herald the coming holiday season, then the availability of chestnuts at the market last week surely did. I nearly broke into yuletide song right there among the farmers.

I loved chestnuts as a kid. There was a chestnut tree on the property of the church and we used to huck the burr-encased nuts at each other after Sunday school. Good times. Back at home, my dad oven-roasted them (as far as I know he did not harvest them from the church grounds) and hooked me for life.

Scoring prior to roasting is absolutely essential. Even if they did not explode (the meat expands when roasted) they'd be impossible to peel (twice! Chestnuts have an inner and outer peel) without a starting place. I'm out of practice scoring and my knives are sorely in need of good sharpening so scoring was more difficult than I remembered. I ended up using a serrated utility knife and sawing a small X in each nut.

Roast them in a preheated oven at 350° for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so. Peel the inner and outer layers away to reveal the brainy-looking nut and enjoy.

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Where Do You Keep Your Cinnamon Sugar?

The kitchenware isle at Target has yielded a few of my favorite things. This morning's breakfast (oatmeal) reminded me of two such items: big glass storage jars, which are perfect for housing all the bulk items I lug home from Whole Foods (oats, rice, lentils, popcorn...) and my flip-cap cinnamon sugar dispenser.

Cinnamon sugar belongs in every pantry. In the Pinch kitchen it's used most frequently for crêpes. It's also dusted on sliced pears or apples for my children, or tossed into a fall fruit salad. Having cinnamon sugar ready-made and easily dispensed is a small convenience I greatly appreciate.

I've only had this dispenser for about two years. Up until its discovery in my Chicagoland Target, my cinnamon sugar was stashed in a recycled Horizon plain nonfat yogurt container. I can still picture the blue and white container, permanently stained with cinnamon.

Cinnamon sugar is a 4:1 sugar to cinnamon ratio. Make it 5:1 to tone it down a bit. But start with 4:1. You can always increase it.

Cinnamon Sugar

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine:
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon

Whisk to combine. Pour into container for storage.

* The dispensers are also available at The Container Store.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Root, Root, Root for the Farmers

Look at this glorious produce! I nabbed all of it at the (now YEAR-ROUND!) Green City Market yesterday afternoon, while Chicago basked in civic pride and the sunshine of a harvest summer day.

We've been chomping the carrots whole. The cauliflower went into Cauliflower Curry in last nights Indian Feast. The beets are presently wrapped in foil, glistening with a bit of olive oil and roasting. And the celery root will be steamed and mashed with a Yukon Gold or two, making a great seasonal accompaniment to roast salmon with a Cabernet reduction for tomorrow's dinner.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breaking Fast with an Egg Mess

Mark my words: If there's ever a Pinch Café the breakfast menu will feature one of my favorite morning meals: the Egg Mess.

The Egg Mess is awesome for all the right reasons. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s healthy. The Egg Mess pictured here (made with two eggs and two pieces of toast) has 10 grams total fat, 22 grams of protein and 32 grams carbohydrate.*

The simplicity of the Egg Mess is that it requires few ingredients: eggs, toast and copious amounts of freshly ground pepper.

To keep it as healthy as the one shown here you need to use a sprouted sandwich bread and cook the eggs using a spritz of canola spray. The sprouted bread I love so much comes from Trader Joe's (their Sprouted Multi-Grain), but the original creator is Alvarado Street Bakery.

The level of difficulty depends on your ability to adequately toast bread and cook an egg. I’m not being glib: achieving well-toasted bread (not too dark or or it'll be too dry) and cooking eggs to anyone’s liking is not always simple. I like my Egg Mess with eggs cooked over-easy so the eggs saturate the toasted bread.

Want to give it a try?

Egg Mess
Print recipe only here

Serves 1

* 2 eggs
* 2 pieces sprouted multi-grain bread (Trader Joe's or Alvarado Street)
* Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat a small nonstick pan over a medium flame.

Lightly toast two slices of bread.

Spritz the hot pan with canola spray and crack eggs into pan. Sprinkle with salt and cook until set. Flip gently and cook another 30-60 seconds, depending on how soft you like your eggs.

Remove toast from toaster, tear into bite-sized pieces and put pieces in a cereal bowl.

Transfer cooked eggs to same bowl on top of toast and cut into bite-sizes pieces.

Add several turns of freshly ground pepper and combine the eggs and toast. Enjoy immediately.

*based on information provided from packaging:
1 egg: 4.5 gram total fat; 1.5 gram saturated fat; 6 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate
1 piece Trader Joe’s Sprouted Multi-Grain Bread: .5 gram total fat; 15 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams protein

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