Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas - Butter is Better for Cookies But Which Butter?

Monday Morning Blog

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms
Chocolate Chip Cookies
 Made with Trickling Springs Butter

Having trouble with your tried and true holiday cookie recipes?

Cookies spread too much?


Burn quickly and stick to the pans?

The problem's not you. 
The problem is your butter.

Butter used to be consistent and reliable..... No more.

We baked with every brand of butter we could lay out hands on.... using the same recipe each time.

Here's the highlights:

National Brands

Land O Lakes (salted)

The gold standard for cookie baking. 

Produced a cookie that had a nice uniform shape. 
Color of the finished cookies were uniform and not browner at the edges.
A little saltier than it used to be so you might experiment with your first batch and cut back on the salt in your recipe.

A good all around butter for experienced and novice cookie bakers alike.

About $5.00 a pound but often goes on sale at the holidays.  

Store Brands

As a rule, we found store brand butters OK for baking but they varied widely in their water content which made baking inconsistent. 

If you're an occasional baker and only bake one or two batches of cookies during the holidays, you'll do OK.

If you're a dedicated cookie baker you'll find store brands frustrating because the manufacturers of the store brands may be different each time the store orders butter so the butter they produce may be different.

Prices averaged $3.00 to $4.00 per pound.

Artisan Butter
So Many Cookies
So Little Time

Kerry's Gold (salted, imported Irish butter)

So yellow it almost looked like cheese. 

Our cookies never got really crisp (you could bend them), were irregularly shaped and bland tasting. 

Sold by the half pound for $3.89 (that's $7.78 per pound).
Not worth the money.

Plugra European Style Butter
(unsalted - made in the USA)

Equally disappointing. Very pale in color - almost white. 

Comes unsalted and has that slight tang typical of European style butters.

Our cookies spread a lot and baked unevenly. 

Sold in half pound packages at $4.29. ($8.58 per pound).

Organic Butter

Both Organic Valley Salted Butter (a national brand)
and Nature's Promise (Giant's store brand organic butter) baked pretty much the same.

Store brands are produced by major manufacturers so it's a safe bet these might be the same butter.

Both produced a crisp, slightly greasy, slightly chewy cookie that spread a little more than we'd like. Edges of cookies browned more than the center.

The fact that the butter was organic had no bearing on its baking qualities. 

Around $5.00 per pound.

Small Dairy

Trickling Springs Dairy (Chambersburg, PA - available here and there at specialty stores, farm markets & health food stores)

We loved this butter!

Cookies were uniform, crispy and didn't spread much. 
The height of the finished cookies were even, not high in the middle and thin at the ends typical of cookies made with butter that contains excess water.
Cookies baked an even color throughout - not browner at the edges. 

Least salty taste of all brands even when the label said "lightly salted". (Unsalted is available, too.)

Comes in a tub instead of sticks but easy to measure for baking. Just pop cold butter out of the one pound tub and cut into four chunks making them as even as you can.

Softens very quickly.... almost melts as if it's ice cream. 
About $5.85 per pound.... worth every delicious penny!!

So what's our advice?

Trickling Springs tub butter is our pick.
Land O Lakes is a close second.

But no matter what the butter, we've never met a cookie we didn't like !!!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving - Quick Little Last Minute Recipes Just in Time For the Thanksgiving Feast

Monday Morning Blog

Just like you, I am running out of time.... it's not even Thanksgiving yet and Christmas cards are starting to pour in. How did I get so far behind when I planned everything out so perfectly?  Oh, well.

Last time, I promised you a few recipes from our Thanksgiving menu and here they are.
They are all quick to fix because, as I said, you're probably running out of time, too.  
The best part about these recipes is that they don't look like they were fast and easy..... my kind of cooking!!!.... they look like you spent HOURS in the kitchen with skills you picked up at the Cordon Bleu.

Let's start with cranberry sauce - a must have with turkey or faux turkey for that matter.

Now I love the jellied stuff in the cans as much as the next person but when you're trying to divert the eye from the corn bread you made from a mix, well here's a cranberry recipe that will just do that and knock the socks off even your most gourmet pals.  No cooking - just pulsing in the processor!

No Cook Fresh Cranberry and Orange Sauce

Ditch the canned stuff this year.  You might be surprised!
Or have the canned stuff, too, for guests who don't adapt well to change. 
Raw food lovers will chow down on this because it is, well, raw.
Best made not more than 1 day in advance. (Isn't that nice - you can make it in advance!!)

Makes about 3 cups

1 package fresh cranberries (12-16 oz)
1 thick skinned orange (like a navel orange - about 3 inches in diameter)
Sugar to taste (We like 1/4 cup but add more to taste - Some people like as much as 1 cup)

Wash cranberries. Remove stems and shriveled berries. 
Wash the orange.  Cut it (peel and all) into random chunks.  Leave the peel and white pith but remove anything else you wouldn't want to eat - stem ends, seeds, a stringy white center core - if there is one.  

Put the orange chunks (with the peel & pith) and the cranberries into the food processor.  Pulse to chop until they are uniform.  But don'y over do it or you'll get puree - that's French for a liquidy, soupy, mess.

Pour chopped mixture into a bowl. Add sugar to taste. (We like 1/4 cup but add more to taste - Some people like as much as 1 cup.   Refrigerate till serving time.

BTW - use white sugar for beautiful color & clear, cranberry orange taste.
Other sweeteners (think brown sugar, agave, honey) are not recommended because their flavor will over power the taste and darken the color but it's your cranberry relish so do what you want. 


Karla's Make Ahead Pumpkin and Ginger Snap Ice Cream Pie

Pie are definitely THE dessert for Thanksgiving. Here's one of our favorites. It's still a pumpkin pie but oh, so much better! (and did I mention it's a make ahead treat?)

Makes one (10 inch) deep dish pie
Must freeze overnight - longer is OK

2 cups crushed ginger snaps (purchased or home made)
6 tablespoons butter (melted & cooled a bit - margarine not recommended)

Mix snaps & butter together. (A fork or your fingers works well). Press into the bottom then the sides of an ungreased pie pan. Refrigerate while making filling.

Cook's tip: To make 2 cups crumbs, pulse about 8 oz. of purchased ginger snaps in the food processor until they are fine crumbs. No food processor?  Put snaps into a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin or wine bottle. Crisp ginger snaps make better crumbs than chewy ginger snaps.  Ask Santa for a food processor.

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 (1.75 quart) container vanilla ice cream

Garnish: whipped cream plus additional nutmeg or cinnamon

In a medium sauce pan, combine pumpkin, brown sugar and spices. Cover pot. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove cover. Continue cooking (stirring to prevent scorching) until mixture bubbles around edges and begins to plop - about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to a heat proof container. Refrigerate until cold - at least 1 hour but overnight is better.

Working quickly so ice cream doesn't melt, fold slightly softened ice cream into cold pumpkin (a plastic spatula works well.)

Pile ice cream mixture into prepared crust mounding it nicely. Cover lightly with a tent of plastic wrap. Freeze overnight before serving.  FYI....  tents do not touch the tops of what they're tenting.  Think the last time you stood under a tent.... 

Serve frozen like ice cream.... which it is after all.

Garnish with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon as desired.

Cook's tip: If your pie pan is not deep dish, and you have more ice cream than you have pie shell, spoon the extra filling into a plastic container, cover and freeze to enjoy as pumpkin ice cream another time.


Quick Spiced, Pickled Peaches - Southern Style
The best southern cooks have a pantry full of their home canned watermelon rind and spiced, pickled peaches waited for the Thanksgiving table.  If canning season escaped you again this year, here's how to doctor grocery store canned peaches and call them your own....

Makes 1 quart

Uses a 1 quart canning jar with lid but processing (canning) is not required
(I like to use a canning jar because it gives the illusion of home canned.... very important if you're having family and friends help out in the kitchen.... but truth be told, you can use and sort of container with a lid.

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 (29 oz.) can peach halves in heavy syrup (undrained)
2 tablespoons mulling spice
1 cinnamon stick

Stir vinegar and sugar together in a medium, non aluminum sauce pan. Cover. Heat on low till sugar is dissolved - about 1 minute.

Remove cover. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to gentle boil (uncovered). Boil 1 minute.

Spoon peaches and spices into canning jar. Pour syrup over peaches filling jar to 1/4 inch from top. Wipe rim of jar with a cloth dipped into hot water. Cap. Cool 2 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate at least 2 days before serving. Longer is better. Do not store at room temperature.

 BTW..... Tie the spices in cheesecloth if you're a purist but I like to see them floating around and besides even I don't always have cheese cloth around.  If you want to use cheese cloth but can't find it at the grocery store try a craft or fabric shop.  At Walmart, it's in the craft section.... go figure.
Also, apple cider vinegar gives the peaches a real, home canned look.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving in Hunt Country - The Menu

Pumpkin Pie!!

Monday Morning Post

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

We're counting down to Thanksgiving here at Cheesecake Farms!
And we can't wait!!

Good food.  Good wine. Good friends and family.  
It's our national day of giving thanks for all our blessings.

Thanksgiving was made an official American holiday by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was a very low point in our history and he thought a moment of reflection might just boost the nation's moral. We have followed that tradition ever since.

The highlight of the day is the feast which is remarkably similar in every house, restaurant and gathering place across the USA.  It seems like everyone has turkey, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie!

But no matter where you go, you won't find any better holiday fare than right here in Hunt Country!

Steeped in southern style, we love our hearty, but elegant, country fare. There's something for everyone - even a faux turkey selection for our vegetarian guests.

The menu looks extravagant but it's really quite simple.  A lot can be done ahead and recipes are quick to fix.

I'll be posting some very easy recipes, tips and ideas next week.

But first things first.  Let's start with the menu.....

Traditional Southern Hunt Country Thanksgiving Menu
From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

Orchard Fresh Pear Pie!
Hors d'oeuvres
Hot Orange Cider (for the children)
Hot Orange Cider Toddies (for the adults)
Shrimp Cocktail Dip
Pimento Cheese
Hearty crackers

Veggies from our gardens!

Williamsburg Peanut Soup
Baked Virginia Ham
Roast Farm Raised Turkey or Medallions of Vegetarian Turkey with Herb Gravy
Apple, Sausage and Fresh Sage Corn Bread Stuffing
Brown Sugar Crusted Sweet Potatoes
Fresh Green Bean, Mushroom and Onion Ring Casserole
Brussels Sprouts with Orange Chestnut Butter
Corn Pudding
Toasted Pecan Wild Rice
Home Made Orange Cranberry Relish
Pickled Watermelon Rind
Spiced Peaches
Salad of Mixed Greens with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pumpkin Bread with Creamery Butter
Local Harvest Virginia Red Wine

Trio of Sweets 
            Pumpkin and Gingersnap Ice Cream Pie
            Unsugared Apple Pie
            Old Fashioned Orchard Pear Pie
French Roast or Chicory Coffee
Holiday Spiced Tea
Cordials, Brandy, Port

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to Cook Fresh Pumpkin & Winter Squash

Monday Morning Post

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

If your only taste of pumpkin has come from a can, you need to try pumpkin fresh from the patch.

Most pumpkins are edible. Some are smoother when cooked than others. Some (especially the jack-o-lantern type) tend to be a bit string-y but all work well in recipes.  

Here's how to make pumpkin puree....  which is what you get when you buy canned pumpkin.
Perfect for soups, pies, breads.... baking of all kinds

You can also cut a fresh pumpkin into chunks and steam it to serve as a vegetable.

Use this same method for winter squash.  

How to Cook a Fresh Pumpkin for Puree
Wash the pumpkin well under tepid running water.  Just put the whole pumpkin into the sink and let the water run.

Most pumpkins are very hard to cut so carefully (with a heavy knife or similar utensil) cut it open just enough that you can remove the seeds using a spoon and probably (at some point) your hand.  

Save the seeds for roasting. (Recipe follows.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
Line a shallow baking pan (with sides) with foil (shiny side up) or baking parchment. Mist lightly with cooking spray.  (Lining the pan makes for easier clean up!)   

Place pumpkin (and any cut pieces with edible pumpkin) into pan. (Turn any cut pieces upside down so rind is facing up.)  Put into oven. 

Roast, uncovered until pumpkin is soft and collapses - about 50 minutes or longer depending on size. Remove from oven. Cool.

Remove soft pumpkin from the rind.  Discard.  Mash or, if stringy, puree. 
Use in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.

Keeps 3 or 4 days in the fridge.
Freeze or can pumpkin for longer storage.  (See Karla's Tip #1 below)

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Save those pumpkin seeds for healthy snacking. They add crunch to salads, too.  

Seeds from a raw pumpkin
Vegetable oil
Salt (optional)
Chili powder, garlic salt, cumin or your favorite spice blend (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (See Karla's Tip #2 below)

Put seeds into a colander and rinse well. Drain.

Toss each cup of seeds in 1 tablespoon oil.
Spread coated seeds onto an ungreased baking sheet. 

Sprinkle with salt and/or spices, if desired. 
Bake (stirring occasionally) until lightly browned - about 12 minutes.

Note - not all winter squash seeds are edible so stick to pumpkin seeds for eating.

Karla's Tips

1.   How To Freeze Roasted Pumpkin
Mash or puree pumpkin.  Portion into recipe size amounts and place in freezer proof containers or plastic bags. Freeze.  Keeps frozen about 1 year.

    How To Can Roasted Pumpkin
Using a reliable source for canning information (like your local extension agent), follow directions for pressure canning fresh pumpkin - a non acid food. 

2.  How To Save Time & Fuel  
Roast the pumpkin seeds at 325 degrees right along with the pumpkin if you have room in the oven..... just be sure to set a timer so they don't get forgotten in the oven.  At 325 degrees, they may take a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween - Cocktails, Brew & Toddy

Monday Morning Post

From the Kitchens of Cheesecake Farms

Black Cat Cocktail
served with a
"Cob Web"

We love Halloween and don't think adults should be left out of the fun.

A few adult beverages will warm 
a chilling evening whether you're waiting for the Trick or Treaters to ring the bell or hosting a (haunted) house full.

Perfect for parties.  

Enchanting for two.

Black Cat Cocktails

An adult ice cream float. 
Why let the kiddies have all the treats???

Orange sherbet
A jigger of vodka
Root beer
Whipped cream
Chocolate sprinkles

For each serving, put 2 scoops of sherbet into a tall glass. Add vodka.  Fill glass with root beer.  

Top with whipped cream and sprinkles.

Black Cat Coolers (non alcoholic)

Prepare Black Cat Cocktails omitting vodka.

Beguiling and bewitching.

For each serving:

1/2 cup apple cider (fresh or hard)
1/3 cup Guinness Extra Stout (other beers or ales not recommended)

Fill a tall, frosted glass with cider and stout.  Stir.  Served very cold.

Hot Orange Cider Toddy

Hot & spicy.
Warming by the fire.....

For each serving:

1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple cider (bottled, fresh or hard)
Cinnamon stick
A jigger of apple schnapps, Southern Comfort or bourbon.

Put juice and cider into a heat proof mug and microwave till steaming. 

After heating, add a jigger of spirits and a cinnamon stick.

Hot Orange Cider (non alcoholic)

Prepare Hot Orange Cider Toddy omitting spirits.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cookies - The New Health Food!

Monday Morning Post

We love chocolate chip cookies so much here at Cheesecake Farms that every guest gets a bag full to nibble. 

Not only is our recipe easier to make than most but, we've tweaked it with "better for you" ingredients.

Fiber rich whole wheat flour.  Heart healthy oil.  Chocolate chips - rich in antioxidants. 
And walnuts for Omega-3's.
Don't like/Can't do nuts?
Leave them out or substitute pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cranberries or raisins. 

Chocolate chip cookies .....the new health food!!  

 Karla's Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

The new health food!

White whole wheat flour is somewhat new to the American market although it's been around Europe for quite a while.  It's essentially the same as regular whole wheat but the outer coating is softer and lighter in color... hence the name "white whole wheat".  The taste is milder, too.  

Make about 48 (2 1/2 inch cookies)
Uses parchment baking paper

2 cups white whole wheat flour (not regular whole wheat or graham flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canola oil 
4 tablespoons butter (softened - 1/2 stick - margarine not recommended)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons water
1 large or extra large egg
1 (12 oz) package semi sweet chocolate chips (2 cups - we use Nestle's)

Optional: 1 cup walnuts (halves in pieces), pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, cranberries or a combination to equal 1 cup


Position oven rack so cookies will bake in center.  Preheat to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment baking paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  In a small bowl, using a fork, blend together vanilla, vinegar, water and egg.  Set both aside. 

Using a heavy duty mixer, cream together oil, butter, sugar and brown sugar.  Add flour and egg mixtures.  Blend together on low then scrape bowl and beat on high until fluffy - about 2 minutes.

Fold in chocolate chips and optional nuts, seeds or dried fruit.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls (or use a portion scooper/disher) onto prepared pans 2 inches apart.  Bake in preheated oven until golden brown on bottoms - 12 - 15 minutes. 

When done, slide entire parchment sheet from pan onto rack to cool.  Remove cookies from parchment after they have cooled completely - about 1 hour.