Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peach Pecan Amaretto Cheesecake

Delish!  I had some concerns about this one when I was developing the recipe.  I've never made a cheesecake with an alcoholic beverage in it before - other desserts, yes... but not cheesecake.  I wasn't sure if it would work, but it did.  I added one tablespoon of Amaretto to the batter, plus I combined that wonderful San Saba River Pecan Company Peach Pecan Amaretto preserves with some Amaretto and swirled it all into the middle.  I just poured half the batter in, swirled in dollops of the preserve mixture, and topped it with the rest of the batter. I used the remaining preserves and put them in a food processor along with more Amaretto and a little powdered sugar to make the glaze and the finished it off with some fresh white peach slices in the center and some chopped cinnamon pecans.  I was hoping  the little chunks of peach and the pecans in the preserves wouldn't sink all the way to the bottom of the batter, and they didn't but they did sink a little.

Next time, maybe I'll add a little more of the batter to the bottom layer and see what happens, and perhaps try adding a little peach nectar to the batter, but I don't want to overpower the delicate flavor of the Amaretto, so I'm not sure about that.  I also decreased the amount of sugar in my basic recipe to account for the sweetness of the preserves.  It was just right.  I'm happy with this one.  It's almost time to start seeking inspiration for the next one!  I hope I still fit through the pantry door by the time I'm over this crazy cheesecake obsession I'm in the midst of.  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Great San Saba River Pecan Company

As I was in the pantry last week, seeking inspiration for another good cheesecake idea, low and behold, it practically jumped right off the shelf and broke the idea light bulb hovering over my head.
I'm talkin' bout the Peach Pecan and Amaretto Preserves produced by The Great San Saba River Pecan Company in San Saba, Texas. 

About five or six years ago, I received a jar of it in a Christmas gift basket from one of my sisters who found it in a gift shop in Fredericksburg, Texas. I was hooked as soon as I tasted it for the first time! The fruit isn't mushy - the combination of textures with the peaches and pecans is perfect.  I actually use it more for baking than spreading on hot buttery biscuits or toast, but if I don't stop talking about it pretty soon, I may just have to go open a jar and slap some onto a cracker before I can even finish gushing over how good it is here.

You can visit the Company's site at and see all the other items they have available besides the one I'm so crazy about.  Their pecans are beautiful, and they offer a variety of great products.  One of these days, I'm going there!

I had to do a little research in my area to locate the nearest place to buy the preserves, but no need to panic, since I can always buy them online if I need to.  Anyway.... back to the cheesecake inspiration thing.  I just finished tweaking the recipe, so next up is a Peach Pecan and Amaretto cheesecake, which will include fresh peaches as well.  I'm pretty excited about this one.  If I'm the only one in my house that likes it, that's fine.  One me, one cheesecake, one fork..... no problem!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Glorious Spoons of Spoon City Kitchen

I have absolutely no earthly idea why I'm so obsessed with spoons.  Mostly wooden spoons, but other spoons too.  I can't resist checking them out when I'm in a retail setting, or even if I'm shopping online.  I'm just spoon crazy, I suppose, but that's pretty harmless, right?  I mean there are worse kinds of crazy out there I could have been besides just spoon crazy.

I have a long personal history with wooden spoons - going all the way back to my childhood.  That's when I first took real notice of them, as my mother was swatting me on the bottom with one. My punishment for doing something I shouldn't have. There were five of us kids, and we all remember the wooden spoon whippings.  More than a few of those spoons sustained broken handles over the years! You'd think I'd want nothing to do with them ever again after the spoon whipping years, but me and my bottom somehow survived all that and those memories eventually got replaced with better ones.

My mother used wooden spoons... lots of them.... when she cooked.  I have two of her spoons, and am so happy to have them now that she is no longer living.  Little things make me happy!  I think of her every time I see them, and sometimes, when I'm cooking a dish that was hers, just the way she used to cook it, I use one of her spoons. Here they are.  I mark them with a M for Mama so I will always know which ones they are.

I also have lots of wooden spoons from far away places.  Most recently, my son and his wife went to Germany and while they were at it, toured Spain, Amsterdam, France, and Switzerland. Before they left, they wanted to know what I wanted from Germany. " Just get me a few wooden spoons", I said.  They came back with thirteen, some from every country they visited.  What a treat!  I was so excited. I haven't used any of them yet. I keep thinking I need to make some specialty dish each country is known for as I use them the first time.  Sheeeeeesh.  That will probably never happen, so I may as well just go ahead and use them.  Here they are:

Then there are these....                               and these.....


and these little ones, none of which are more than 5 inches long..... oh, and that non-spoon thing there, that's an olive pick.  I allow it to mingle with my spoons just because I like it so much. Naturally, it's made of olive wood, as are quite a few of my spoons.

and finally, well almost finally... here is one of two HUGE ones.  I stuck it in with my regular ones so you can see how big it is.  No, I don't use them.  I've had them for almost 30 years. One of these days, who knows?  I might happen upon a really big pot of something that needs to be stirred!

And this, which I lovingly refer to as "the ugly spoonling", because, let's face it.... it IS!  I use it for pickling because the pickling spices stain wooden spoons, so therefore, a designated one.  I never use it for anything else.  Hey... I need to post about my homemade Jalapeno Garlic Dill Pickles one of these days!

I even want to make my own wooden spoons.  I know I can do it..... I'm sure I can, so one of these days, I just might get around to it.  I've only watched a gazillion Youtube videos on the subject. I'm just slightly concerned about all those really sharp hand tools and keeping all my fingers intact during the process. I need all my fingers to get a good grip on my wooden spoons while I'm stirring stuff....

So there you have it, you have officially been introduced to all the spoons of Spoon City Kitchen!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Triple Whammy Nutterbutter Cheesecake!

My inspiration for this one is my son's favorite cookie - Nutterbutter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, and he prefers them dipped in chocolate.  So that's where I began - I dipped cookies in semi-sweet chocolate and allowed them to set before I moved on to the next steps.

This is a triple whammy experience because not only are the chopped dipped cookies folded into the batter, but I also used them to make the crumb crust, and obviously, the top is loaded with the chopped cookies as well, which are resting atop a luscious caramel/peanut butter glaze. 

I'm feeling pretty confident my son will be expecting more of these in his future!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Spicy Cajun Ritz

My husband and I are preparing for a trip to Caddo Lake in East Texas. It will be a great get-together with lots of friends and family, and for me, that means I need to get busy in the kitchen.  Today, I'm doing something that can be done in advance, and these Spicy Cajun Ritz are the perfect thing.  I doubled the recipe because I need that many for our trip since they don't last long anywhere I take them.  This idea came to me a few years after my daughter in law started making saltine crackers in a somewhat similar way, and we just love those things and enjoy them so much every time she makes them.  These are not quite as simple to make, but I love the blend of spices and how baking them in the oven for a few minutes really gets the flavor into the crackers. 

Here's what you need to make them:

3 sleeves Ritz original flavor crackers
1 package  dry Hidden Valley Ranch dressing/dip mix - Fiesta Ranch flavor
1 package dry Hidden Valley Ranch dressing/dip mix - Spicy Ranch flavor
1 tablespoon Dangold Hot & Spicy Cajun Style Spice Blend
3/4 cup canola oil
2 gallon size zip top bags

If you can't find Dangold Cajun Spice Blend, use any other brand!


First, pour the two packages of Hidden Valley mixes and the Cajun spice mix into a medium bowl and whisk them around to mix well.  Then pour the canola oil in and whisk well.  The spices are heavy and will quickly settle to the bottom of the oil, so as you place half of it into each zip top bag, be sure to whisk it well right before doing that.  Once half your liquid spice mixture is in each bag, put 1 and 1/2 sleeves of Ritz crackers into each bag and zip closed, leaving the air space in the bag.  Toss them gently by hand to get all the crackers well coated with the spice mix and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.  I like to line my baking sheets with foil, but it isn't necessary, just time saving.  Use any size baking sheets you have - the smaller, the longer it takes to get them all baked. 
They should look like this when wet, ready to bake... all nicely coated!
Just before placing them onto the baking sheet, toss the crackers one more time in the bag to make sure they are well coated.  You will always have excess coating in the bag when finished, but I'd rather make sure the crackers are all really well coated than not.  You can experiment with using less oil if you prefer.  

Once the crackers are lined up single layer on the baking sheet, place it in the oven and set a timer for 2 minutes, then remove them, flip all the crackers (you can do this with your hands, they aren't hot enough to burn you), and then return them to the oven and set the timer for another 2 minutes. 

Once both sides have baked for 2 minutes, remove from the oven and place on a long sheet of foil to cool completely to room temperature before you store them in an air tight container. 

The spices can burn if you bake these at a higher temperature, so I don't recommend doing that. These crackers stay nice and crispy for as long as they will last before someone finishes them off!

Here mine are, ready to make the trip to East Texas.  I'm pretty sure this container will be empty when I bring it back home!
This is my favorite Cajun spice blend ever.  It's made by Dangold, and I first discovered it at a HomeGoods store nearby, but of course, I couldn't always find it there when I needed it, so I began ordering it six bottles at a time online so I never have to worry about running out.... it's THAT good!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cinnamon Explosion Cheesecake

Well, here it is.  If only it didn't need to be refrigerated overnight before I can cut into it and find out if it tastes as good as it looks. I want to know now!  Here's how I did it:

Cinnamon Explosion Cheesecake

Ingredients and directions for crust:

1 ½         cups graham cracker crumbs

¼             cup white sugar

1              tablespoon ground cinnamon

4              tablespoons butter, melted


Mix crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.  Add melted butter and mix together well with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened.   Spray a 9 inch springform pan generously with non-stick spray and pour crumb mixture into center of it. 

Gently slide pan around in a circular motion to level the crumb layer into the bottom of it.  With your hands, starting in the center, gently press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides just enough to cover the seam.

Center the pan on a piece of heavy duty foil that is large enough to come all the way to the top edge all the way around.  Crush the foil onto the top edge of the pan to hold it in place, but not into it where the batter may rise over it.   Set wrapped pan aside.  There is no need to pre-bake the crust.

Ingredients and directions for filling: 
3              8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, softened
1              cup white sugar
1 ½         teaspoons ground cinnamon
½             cup sour cream
3              eggs at room temperature
2              teaspoons vanilla
Combine sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  Add softened cream cheese, one brick at a time, and beat until smooth after each addition.  Add sour cream and beat until smooth. 
Whisk eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, then add to cream cheese mixture and beat until well incorporated and smooth.  Set batter aside.
Now... here comes the fun part!  The cinnamon swirl stuff!!
Cinnamon swirl ingredients and directions:
1 ½         sticks butter, melted
1              cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼             cup all-purpose flour
1 ½         tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Stir in melted butter and mix until well combined.  Place mixture into a pastry bag with largest size writing tip, or use a freezer ziplock bag with corner snipped to make small hole.  Oh boy, this stuff looks like it's gonna be good!
Now's the time to get the oven and water bath going, so...
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Place one inch of boiling or very hot tap water into a baking pan big enough to sit your springform pan into and put it in the oven while it preheats.
Prepare the Batter for the Oven:
Gently spoon half the batter into the prepared springform pan with the crust in it.
Pipe a tight spiral, beginning in the middle, of the cinnamon swirl over the batter.  Pay no attention to that not-so-tight spiral there... when you do it, make it tighter!
Top the spiral with the remaining batter and then pipe another swirl on top of it.
Gently use the tines of a fork to press the spiral about ¾ of the way into the batter. 
Place the foil-wrapped springform pan into the waterbath pan.
Set a timer for 1 hour.
At one hour, begin checking the cheesecake every 5 minutes for doneness.  Very gently move the pan a little to see how much the batter jiggles.  You want the very center to jiggle slightly.  It may take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes for this to happen, depending on your oven.
When it’s done, turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly.  Allow it to cool in the oven for another full hour, then remove it from the waterbath, remove the foil from around the pan, and place on a rack to continue cooling to room temperature.
It should be refrigerated overnight or for at least 6 hours before serving.
I chose to make a simple glaze of confectioners' sugar, milk, and cinnamon just to make it prettier. Here's what it looked like before I glazed it.
Look at those ribbons of gooey cinnamon swirl stuff!

And, as seen at the top of the post, here's the final product!

Well, here's a cut piece so you can see all that cinnamon goodness on the inside:

It's very good, but next time, I will make a tighter swirl pattern and also cut a smaller hole in the piping bag to get a thinner line.  Other than that, it's a keeper at my house.  My husband loves it.
Now I have to use this swirly concept on more flavor combinations.  Yeah!!!


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Let There Be Cheesecake !

It must have been around 1985 when I first attempted to bake a "real" cheesecake - you know... the kind you actually have to bake in the oven rather than the kind you mix up in a bowl with whipped topping and stick into a store-bought graham cracker crust and refrigerate. 
I only dared to attempt it because I was blessed enough to have obtained the recipe for Sam Litzenberg's World Famous Cheesecake.  For years and years (don't ask how many) I made Sam's cheesecake and basked in the compliments bestowed upon me by all who had the pleasure of eating it.  Oh, the fresh strawberry, as seen here, was my favorite, but I have also made Sam's other versions, which he referred to as "romancing the cheesecake", and changing the toppings as specifically directed in his recipe.  I never once dared to cook outside the Sam lines and change the recipe in any way, fearing it may result in something less than perfect.

UNTIL... that is, recently!  I have now ventured into uncharted cheesecake territory and am happily experimenting with new flavors and textures.  I'm so glad I am.  I've really been missing out, but not anymore.  I'm on a quest to make as many awesome cheesecakes as I can think up! 
I'm using good ole Sam's basic recipe as a starting point for all of these, (thanks, Sam) and no doubt some of them will be failures, but so far (knock on cream cheese) they have all been keepers that I will certainly make again!  Here are pictures of a few of my "so fars".

Heavenly Espresso
 So, so good. I could have eaten the entire thing all by myself (or died trying), but thankfully, I had friends willing to take on the task of taste-testing.

This one is Key Lime, and while it was really delicious, I've already decided it can be improved with a drizzle on top of Key lime curd mixed with a little lime juice to thin it a bit.  It would also make for a nicer presentation.  Oh, and add more pucker power!

Butterfinger Lovers

Yeah, what more need I say.  This is just a slice of big ole happy on a plate.  Gimme a fork, already!

Stay tuned.... up next, I'm attempting a Cinnamon Explosion!