Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Things to Do in Southern California: Visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum

Hubby and I love to do little day trips on the weekend to make it feel like we're really "getting away from it all" - like the all the dishes and laundry and other household chores. One of our recent escapes was to the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

It's about a 1.5 hour drive north of the San Diego area - and well worth it to visit. The museum hosts a variety of European paintings, artifacts and sculptures, as well as both American and European photography.

























The building and grounds themselves are also very impressive to behold - with amazing gardens and views clear to the ocean.
 
Perhaps best of all, entry to the museum is FREE! If you drive to the location, all you have to pay is a $15 parking fee per car. That's probably the best deal you'll ever get for an afternoon's worth of entertainment in LA. 
 
And if all that wasn't enough, there is one last cherry to place on the top of the sundae:
 
Jelly & Nutella Sandwiches in the Museum Cafe!! (That was my first Nutella & jelly sandwich - but I can guarantee you, it won't be my last. Absolutely delicious!)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Makeover: Chocolate Pie

I'm not sure if it's really "traditional" Thanksgiving fare for most folks, but growing up, my grandmother always made chocolate pie to go along with the usual pumpkin & apple pie offerings. It was my brother's favorite--the only kind of pie he would eat. Even though I thought the cook & serve pudding pie was a bit rubbery, he loved it. Piled high with Cool Whip, he would carry his slice back to the kids' table, thanking Grandma along the way for making his favorite once again. At least until I was 12, and Grandma passed away.

One year after that, whoever had taken over dessert duties had forgotten the chocolate pie. And everyone noticed, not just my brother. Since then, my mother and I took over chocolate pie duties, firmly cementing it as a Thanksgiving tradition.
As I got older and started getting more into baking, I decided to elevate the humble chocolate pudding pie. And so this French Silk Chocolate Pie was born.





It is creamy, rich, chocolaty deliciousness that's sure to please the chocolate lovers in your life. Even though I won't be spending Thanksgiving with my actual family this year, this pie is definitely making an appearance at my adopted "California family's" Thanksgiving table!

French Silk Chocolate Pie
(Makes 1 9" pie)

Ingredients:
1 unbaked 9" pie crust (use 1/2 of this recipe, or 1 store-bought crust)
1 c. (2 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 c. superfine (or baker's) sugar
4 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbsp. Hershey's® Special Dark cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup egg beaters
whipped cream for topping (optional)

Method:
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roll out pie crust to fit a 9" pie pan. Fold overhanging crust under the edges and crimp.
Cover crust with parchment paper and place pie weights (or 1-2 cups of dry beans) on top of the parchment to keep the crust from puffing.
Bake at 400°F for 12 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment, and continue baking another 10-15 minutes until crust is fully cooked and lightly browned all over.
Cool completely.

Once the pie crust is fully cooled, begin making the filling (which you will not be baking). Using a hand or stand mixer, cream softened butter and superfine sugar until light and fluffy.
Add both types of cocoa powder and vanilla, and beat until fully combined.
Add 1/4 cup of egg beaters and beat mixture for 1 minute until egg is completely incorporated and mixture is fluffy and mousse-like.
Add another 1/4 cup and beat for another minute. Repeat with remaining egg beaters, beating for about 1 minute between each 1/4 cup addition.
Spread chocolate filling into baked pie crust.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

(Be sure to store the pie in the refrigerator. The egg beaters are pasteurized, so it's safe to eat them raw, as long as they're stored at the proper temperature.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust {Gluten-Free}

Wow! It has been a wild ride the last couple of weeks. We went back East to visit our families, narrowly escaped Superstorm Sandy on the way home, spent a night at the emergency vet with a sick kitty (she's fine now, thankfully) AND I started a new job! The new job is going well, though I've (re)discovered how tiring commuting can be. Still, I've managed to whip up a few yummies here and there.

One that I wanted to share are these mini-pumpkin cheesecakes:

 
They're made with a pecan crust, which makes them extra decadent -- and gluten-free!
 
I made them for a small get-together, so I went with minis (using my favorite mini-cheesecake pan) and that's the recipe that follows. But you can also make a full 10" pumpkin cheesecake by doubling the crust ingredients and tripling the filling. It would make a great addition to any Thanksgiving table!
 
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Pecan Crust
(Makes 12)
 
Ingredients:
For the crust
1 cup ground pecans
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
 
For the filling
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)
2 Tbsp. heavy cream (or milk)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 whole egg
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, combine ground pecans, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ginger and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Mix well. Pour melted butter evenly over the mixture and stir until evenly moistened.
Distribute mixture evenly into mini-cheesecake tins. Press into bottom of tins, making about a 1/8"-1/4" crust.
Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes.
Let crust cool completely.
Increase oven heat to 375°F.
In a large bowl, beat softened cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add 1/4 c. brown sugar, pumpkin, heavy cream, maple syrup, vanilla, remaining spices, whole egg and egg white. Beat again on low to medium speed until there are no lumps.
Divide and pour mixture evenly into mini-cheesecake tins.
Bake at 375°F for 14 minutes.
Cool at least 20 minutes before removing from pan. (Run a knife around the edges to release the filling, if needed.)
Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.
Enjoy!