Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Fest - Pumpkin Cheesecake

I have never been a big fan of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin cheesecake on the other hand is a totally different story. For my entire life we have relied on canned pumpkin puree for our pumpkin pies. This year I decided to expand my skills by making the pumpkin puree from scratch. "How would this change the final taste?" I wondered.
My wife and I went to the local pumpkin patch to get pick up some supplies for the fall.
Pie pumpkins
The first thing into the cart was 6 homemade, apple cider donuts, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. OMG they were so good, only a few of them made it home. The next thing into the cart was a 32 ounce jar of homemade Door County pitted cherries. The cherries were in a sugar based syrup. Time to make a snow white cake?
The next step was to find out what type of pumpkins that we needed to buy. I was instructed that the big carving pumpkins were not the best for making pumpkin pies. I was directed to a bin of small pie pumpkins and was told that these were the best for making pies. As we left the pumpkin patch, we just couldn't wait to dive into the apple cider donuts. They were absolutely delicious.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make pumpkin puree you have to wash the outside of the pumpkins to remove and dirt or pesticides, if any. The next step is to cut the pumpkins into quarters. The next step is to scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, until the center is clean. Place the pumpkin sections face down on a baking sheet. Place the pumpkin into the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a fork can be inserted easily through the pumpkin skin. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow to rest until cool enough to handle.
Pumpkin puree
Using a large spoon or scoop, remove the pulp from outer skin of the pumpkin, being careful not to include any skin in the collected pulp. Put the pulp into a food processor and carefully pulse the processor until the pumpkin turns into a puree. Scoop the puree out of the processor into a bowl. When cool, transfer 15 ounces of the puree into quart size, zip lock freezer bags.  Freeze the puree until needed.
Fresh pumpkin puree
NOTE: A can of prepared pumpkin puree contains approximately 15 ounces of pumpkin puree, which is enough for one 9" pie.
My sister-in-law, Debra, gave us a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake many years ago. The first time that we made it we used canned pumpkin puree. This year I had fresh homemade pumpkin puree to use. "What would the the difference be?" I wondered.
Buttered Spring form pan
I enlisted my daughter for making the cheesecake, since I am not a baker, although I could become one. Start off my making the crust. Ideally you should use a 9 inch spring form pan. Using your hands mix together:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar 
as needed butter, room temperature, to lightly grease the pan
Graham cracker crust

Spread a thin layer of butter on the inside of a spring form pan. Using your fingers and the palm of your hands, form the graham cracker crumbs on the bottom of the pan. Set the crust to the side while you prepare the filling.
To make the cheesecake filling you're going to need the following: 
1 pound room temperature cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
1/3 cup whipping cream
1cup pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
3 tablespoons
pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash nutmeg, fresh grated preferred
dash ground cloves

NOTE: If using canned pumpkin puree, I prefer the Libby's brand cans.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 9” spring form pan. Combine ingredients for the crust and place into the bottom of the spring form pan (not up the sides). Press crumb mixture lightly and set aside. Cream together the cream cheese, sugar and brown sugar.
Wrap foil around the bottom of the pan. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Add whipping cream and mix on high for 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and spice and mix for one more minute. Pour into the prepared spring form pan, set into a larger pan. On the outside of the spring form pan, fill 1/4 of the way with water. This should keep the cake from cracking. Bake in a water bath for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours, or until firm on the center rack of the oven. The edges should be firm and the center only slightly loose and a little giggly. Do not over bake.
Add the pumpkin puree
Meanwhile, if using a sour cream topping, prepare this while the cheesecake is baking. When the cheesecake is finished baking, turn the oven off, cover with the topping and return to oven. Remove cheese cake after 1/2 hour. Cover the cheesecake and refrigerate until well chilled, preferably overnight.
To serve, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Carefully remove side of pan before cutting cheesecake. Cut into 14-16 slices.
Can I cut a slice for you?
Project Notes: If you use dark brown sugar you will get a darker cheesecake. Light brown sugar is what I used and it is not as dark as I like it.

Praline Topping: Toppings are optional. If you're using a sour cream topping, don't also add a praline topping. For the praline topping, mix together 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Add 1 cup of dark corn syrup and cook over medium heat, while stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of chopped pecans and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Allow to cool slightly before pouring over the cheesecake. ENJOY!      

© TMelle 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Polish Style Cream of Mushroom Soup

When the frost is on the pumpkin, tis the time for making soup. Nothing takes the bite off a Midwestern cold fall or winter's day better than a bowl of hot soup. When I first met Chef Irene, a Polish gourmet chef and co-owner of the now closed Mareva's  restaurant and banquets in Chicago, she and her husband, Stosh made the best creamy mushroom soup that I have ever tasted. In fact, she made the best beet borscht and pierogies that I ever had. The secret to her mushroom soup was very expensive dehydrated wild borowiki mushroom that were imported from Poland.
Note: One ounce of dried mushrooms is equal to approximately ten ounces of fresh mushrooms. While I never got their exact recipe, this one is my attempt to re-create that taste. I also did not get the Borowiki mushrooms; I used fresh porcini mushroom instead.  
16 ounces porcini mushroom
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water
6 cups beef broth, divided 5C + 1C reserved
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons flour, mixed with the sour cream
to taste, salt and pepper
fresh dill ( to garnish)
My note: Chef Irene makes her own stock. Homemade stock is best, but if you don't have time to make your own stock, use a high quality store-bought stock.
Coarse chopped porcini
Clean mushrooms using a damp paper towel and coarsely chop the mushrooms. In a saute pan over medium-low heat melt the butter, add the onions, and mushrooms and saute until until the mushrooms give off their liquid.
Then add the mushrooms
Transfer mushroom mixture to a large stockpot, add 5 cups of the beef broth (reserving 1 cup), and bring to a low simmer.
Blend the sour cream with the flour and mix well. Blend the reserved cup of beef broth into the sour cream and flour until smooth. Slowly add sour cream mixture to the mushroom soup mixture, while constantly stirring.
Blend flour and sour cream
Simmer for five minutes, but keep stirring so it doesn't burn. Using an immersion blender, blend until the desired consistency. I like some chunks of mushrooms to show.
Stir in the sour cream mixture slowly, stirring constantly
In the last minute of heating the soup you may choose to add a squirt of fresh lemon juice to add a bright flavor and a little acid and cut the richness of the soup. To serve, place about a half cup of the soup into a bowl and garnish with a dollop of sour cream sprinkeled with chopped fresh dill.  
Blitz with your immersion blender
If you can find them, use the richly flavored wild Borowiki mushrooms that many Polish cooks use. To rehydrate, follow the directions on the dried mushrooms. You may substitute dried mushrooms for part of the fresh mushrooms if you like.
Can you taste this?
Chef Irene often served her soup with swans made from puff pastry dough. She then filled the body of the swan with sour cream. The visual of a swan floating on a mushroom soup pond was amazing. 

Finally, I know that I can look this up on the Internet, but I'm looking for authentic recipes and memories from your "matka lub babcia." The older the recipe, the better. I don't really know how many Polish home cooks are reading this blog, but if you are and have some recipes of polish foods like zrazy, klopsiki, pierogi, golabki, borscht, served with paszteciki, please post them in the comments section below.
Maybe I prejudice, but since my last Mareva's pierogies, I have probably tried every frozen pierogies on the market today. None, I repeat none have been close to just how good these were. If Chef Irene reads this post, just maybe she will bring the best pierogies back to Chicago. If not, maybe some big name producer will buy her recipe and bring them back... just like the twinkie.
© TMelle 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wet & Dry Memphis Barbecue - Is it really that good?

I have only been to Memphis twice in my life and both times for work. While I have always wanted to attend the Memphis in May, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and Music Festival, a.k.a. Memphis in Mud, the thought of wandering around in the extreme heat, and often rain, with over 100,000 other people, covered in sticky barbecue sauce, just doesn't sound like all that much fun to me.
Rendezvous, Corky's, Commissary, Brother Bob's rub
Yes I would just love to be a part of the annual pilgrimage to the barbecue capitol of the south. If not for the huge crowds of people who are often as sauced as the pork they are eating, I would probably go.
Let's trim and clean these bad boys up
Ever since my brother and his family moved to the Memphis area, I have heard him talk about the barbecue restaurants, or shacks in the area. For as many years as he has been down there, I have asked him to send me samples of barbecue rubs and sauces for what he thinks are the best BBQ places in Memphis.
$1.99 lb. vs. $4.99 lb. Baby Back Ribs
This year he finally came through and brought me three barbecue sauces and three rubs so I could taste them. His three choices were Charles Vergos' Rendezvous Barbecue, Corky's Ribs & BBQ, and Germantown Commissary and BBQ. I decided that I would do a blind tasting of ribs made with these three rubs, plus a fourth rub my brother developed. Since they have dry rubs and wet ribs in Memphis, I would do the same for my blind tasting.
I prepared a mop sauce for basting the ribs using 4 tablespoons of BBQ rub, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of water, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, and 4 tablespoons of
Bulls Eye, Memphis Style BBQ Sauce. I combined these in a saucepan and brought it to a boil, removed it from the heat until needed.
Dry ribs ready for the oven
Being from Chicago, we actually are use to wet ribs, since dry ribs are not generally an option here. Generally I make baby back ribs. This year I decided to go way outside of my comfort zone and make St. Louis style ribs for the very first time. I chose my wife and son as blind tasters.
Trimming the flap meat
I discovered that even though I bought St. Louis Style Pork Spareribs that were already cut, they still needed some work to prepare. There's a flap of meat on the back side which has to be removed. This flap has a lot of meat and fat on it. Trimming the fat off leaves you with some flap meat that you can test your rubs and sauces on, and also makes a nice snack for the cook. This is the cook's share and a bonus for slaving over the fire.
Use a paper towel or rubber gloves to grip the meat

Once the flap is removed and the good meat harvested, it's time to remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs. Season the flap meat with your rub before moving on to the ribs.
Mustard on flap meat

The ribs will need to be rinsed and dried with paper towels before moving on. I like to add a layer of yellow mustard to the ribs to hold the barbecue rub. Using a pastry brush, spread a nice layer of the mustard and then a generous dusting of your favorite rub.
Mustard mixed into flap meat

Don't be shy you'll never taste it
Once the ribs are dusted in BBQ rub, cover the ribs with plastic wrap or foil and allow the mustard and rub to get cozy with your ribs. This alone time together will start the process of building a dry crust on the ribs.
Your ribs are ready to get friendly with your oven

For the purpose of this project I opted to use my kitchen oven over the outside grill, so that I had more control over the heat and the test. I set the oven to 325°F. Once the ribs are generously dusted in BBQ rub, place the ribs bone side down on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper, making cleanup easier when finished.
Place the ribs on the center rack of the oven and place your flap meat on the top rack. After 15 minutes, remove the ribs and flap meat from the oven and brush both sides with the mop. Return the ribs and flap meat to the oven. Baste the ribs every 15 minutes to keep them moist. The flap meat should be done in 30-45 minutes. When the meat starts drawing back on the bones (about 3 hours), mop one more time and lightly dust ribs with BBQ rub. Cover with foil and return to oven for 30 more minutes.
The ribs are ready to eat now. Serve with cornbread, coleslaw or potato salad, and baked beans. It was time to do our blind tasting.
For this tasting we gave each person two ribs with a rub from each of our four competitors. We also gave each person a cup of sauce from each competitor. One rib was eaten with just the dry rub and  the other with sauce. Since my brother did not have a sauce to go with his rub, we used Bulls Eye BBQ Sauce, Memphis Style.
Four different barbecue sauces
When evaluating the results, we discovered a flaw in the test. When it came to Rendezvous Barbecue Sauce, none of us liked it, because it was way to hot. Upon closer inspection we discovered that the label said "HOT." Since none of the other sauces were hot, this was not a fair comparison. We all felt that the Corky's rub was good and did not mask the actual flavor of the ribs. On the other hand we all selected my brothers "top secret" rub as our favorite.
The choices for sauces are endless

When it came to sauces, to our suprise, the Bulls Eye BBQ Sauce, Memphis Style was our clear choice over the others. Really sauces are as individual as night and day, so pick the one that you like the best. I have to admit that having dry rub ribs made me rethink having any sauce on my ribs in the future. If you've never had a dry rub rib before, give it a try. If you live in the Memphis area, you can get these famous ribs already cooked in your local grocery store.

Here our results:
#1. Rendezvous: None of us really cared for the rub. The sauce was too hot for our taste, hiding the taste of the rib completely. The Rendezvous sauce should be given a second look, trying their regular or mild sauce next time, which might have changed our opinion. 
#2. Corky's: We all liked the rub and found that the rub did not hide the flavor of the ribs. The sauce was good, but not our first choice.
#3. The Germantown Commissary: We all thought that the rub was good. As for the sauce it had a molasses aftertaste, so not our favorite.
#4. Brother Bob's rub was our unanimous winner for the rub, unfortunately he's not giving out the recipe just yet. We had to improvise for the fourth sauce, Bull's Eye, Memphis style BBQ sauce. Believe it or not that it was our sauce winner.
NOTE: This was not a scientific study and really reflects the  opinion of three Yankee's from the Midwest. I would suggest that if ever in Memphis go to these places, listen to amazing blues, and try the ribs (wet and dry) in every place that you can find.
I think that using St. Louis Style Spareribs for this test opened my eyes to a choice of ribs that I never tried before. Yes, they require a little more prep work, but the end result is amazing and less than half the cost of baby backs. 
The actual preparation of the ribs took about a half hour. The cooking took about three hours in a 325°F oven. By adding a little smoke to the mop sauce, most people wouldn't know that they were not cooked on the grill.                
Finally, if you have any comments on our test, the results, a BBQ rub, our BBQ sauce recipe of your own and would like to share them, please leave a comment below, or join this blog above. 
As always, if there is some retro, or comfort food that you would like to see in this blog, leave as much information about it as possible.      

© TMelle 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day - Barbecue Sausage & Cheese Plate

Labor Day is rapidly approaching, signaling the end of another summer and barbeque season in the Midwest for most people. It seems like our summer really just began, after enduring one of the worst winter's that I can remember in a very long time. It is at this time of the year I often ask myself if it's time to become a "snowbird" and move to warmer climates during the winter months. 
Fall is coming
As you may or may not know, my brother and sister-in-law have been living near Memphis, a.k.a. barbecue country, for well over 23 years. According to my brother, their son, who was two years old when they moved, is now a full blooded Southern Gentleman. Their daughter was 2 months old at the time and is now a full blooded Southern Belle. Hey, I thought we were German Irish!
Cut up some cheese logs
Having lived 27 years as a Yankee and 23 years as a rebel, my brother now says that he's not as uptight as us Yankees. Who says I'm uptight? To say that he has barbecue sauce in his blood would be an understatement. When writing about barbecue, I often have to rely on my brother's experience with "all things barbecue."
How about some dill pickle spears?
When my brother cooks anything from fried bologna, pork chops, pulled pork, to baby back ribs, he goes into the "low and slow" lifestyle. When I talk about barbecue tools I mean a good thermometer, some wood chips, charcoal, tongs, spatulas, a cooler, some sauces and rubs.
When in Rome you need a traditional rub, or make your own
When my brother talks about barbecue tools, he is generally talking about a cooler full of beer, a pitcher or two of sweet tea, a smoker loaded for a long, low and slow cooking process and some snacks. What snacks you ask?
For starters, how about a sausage and cheese
Let's cut up some smoked sausage
plate, or pulled pork nachos and cheese with BBQ sauce? This brings me to the purpose of this post. What in the hell is a sausage and cheese plate? I didn't know either. Apparently the sausage and cheese plate is a Memphis tradition.
Cook up some sausages and dust with barbecue rub
When it comes to who has the best barbecue, there is no real answer, because it really depends on how you like your barbecue. Wet, dry, sweet, tangy, hot and spicy, the possibilities are endless without leaving the state of Tennessee. Depending on who you talk to about the best BBQ in Memphis, the answer just might be Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, Corky's BBQ, Central BBQ, Cozy Corner, or the Germantown Commissary, just to name a few. The one thing they all have in common is the sausage and cheese plate for starters.
Smoked sausage dusted in BBQ rub
I asked my brother for a picture that I could use as a reference to make the sausage and cheese plate. He sent me a couple of different pictures, although I only needed one.
I can make this better
What goes on this plate other than the sausage and cheese is where they vary. Almost all have dill pickle spears, one or more types of cheese cubes or logs and Greek
pepperoncini. From there you can add green olives, seedless grapes and of course saltines. To make it true Memphis style, you just have to dust the plate liberally with BBQ dry rub, and serve it with a bowl of your favorite barbecue sauce.
A barbecue restaurant has some deep history to live up to and generally are not a fancy schmancy fine dining affair. In my opinion the love of barbecue is more of an addiction that somehow just doesn't taste the same if served in an upscale restaurant.

For my first attempt at making a Memphis style sausage and cheese plate, I decided on using "Eckrich Skinless, Original Smoked Sausage," cooked in some apple juice and onions. The apple juice and onions adds a nice caramelization to the sausages and enhances the overall flavor. For the pickle component, I chose Claussen brand dill pickle spears. Finally, for the cheese I just had to use
My version of a sausage and cheese platter.
Wisconsin cheddar and
Monterey Jack, from our neighbors to the north. Of course I held back a little bit on the rub, having never tasted an authentic sausage and cheese plate. Served up with some saltine crackers, this really is an appetizer that works well with barbecue. As my brother said, it really is a great appetizer when tending the barbecue, or any time really. So brew up some sweet
Sweet sun tea y'all
tea and as they say down yonder, "y'all put some South in your mouth."
If you have any traditional Labor Day recipes, or Memphis style barbecue appetizer recipes to share, please leave them in the comment section below. I'm especially interested in the pulled pork nacho cheese platter, or the fascination with deep-fried bologna.
Fried Bologna

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© TMelle 2014