Ode to Autumn

I used to be the girl who poured Aunt Jemima’s butter-lite pancake syrup all over flapjacks constructed from a couple cups of Bisquick, eggs, and milk. Sure, I was tempted by the ‘just add water!’ advertisements on competitor boxes (or jugs?), but the idea of adding water to flour and having great-tasting pancakes was just a little too farfetched for me. Call me crazy, but the ‘just add water’ brands and Bisquick were as different, in my mind, as apples and oranges.

Eventually, I started making pancakes from scratch. I realized the only difference between pre-packaged mixes and from-scratch ‘cakes was that Bisquick already added the salt, sweetener, and leavening (along with some other crap – partially hydrogenated soybean oil, anyone?). Those are all ingredients that are ever-present in my house, so making my own pancakes was an easy transition. Easy, and so much tastier.

The fact of the matter is that Aunt Jemima remained a regular guest in my kitchen for much longer than the box o’ mix, and much longer than I should probably admit to you. I’d gotten rid of all sorts of artificially flavored foods – the coffee creamers, the teriyaki sauces, even the pre-shredded cheeses – and until less than a couple of years ago, I insisted on having Aunt Jemima sit at my breakfast table. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming to be a “I only eat natural, non-processed foods” person – you’ll still find your fair share of processed foods in my kitchen, just a lot less than in the past. But one day, I fell in love with Aunt Jemima’s healthier, less superficial, distant cousin – I fell in love with maple syrup.

I can’t remember how, or when it happened. I’d guess we had pancakes one morning and when I reached into the pantry to get the AJ syrup (butter-lite!), it was gone. But however it happened, I converted, and maple syrup became a new favorite.

To me, maple syrup is the epitome of fall, next to pumpkin and perhaps cranberries. And while it may not seem very fall-like for many of you (hello, east coast; hello, midwest), it’s technically not winter quite yet.

Sure, maple syrup on pancakes is an all-season affair, but maple syrup elsewhere probably isn’t. Maple syrup with cranberries? Maple syrup in cheesecake? Maple syrup cheesecake with maple-cranberry compote? A maple syrup bath with maple syrup shampoo and maple syrup body lotion? Okay, maybe not, but you get the point here.

This is a dessert that’s sure to make you think it’s still fall on the inside, even though it’s definitely much chillier than I have ever remembered mid-December to be on the outside. Consider it one final ode to Autumn – beautiful for sure, but way too short in our neck of the woods. If the toe-numbing weather isn’t enough to keep you indoors, perhaps this will do the trick. Of course, if you’re an awesome supervisor and you made this cheesecake for a rotating student, that’s an exception…

Maple Cheesecake w/ Maple-Cranberry Compote
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2009 (yes, I saved this for a year!), serves 10-12

time commitment: 2.5 hours (1 hour active) + overnight chilling

the original recipe called for reduced maple syrup, but i think it’s plenty maple-y without reducing it. also, i had some leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, so I pureed that with water and spread about 1/2 c of that over half of the cheesecake filling, then filled the remainder over it for a ‘cranberry sauce layer’. if you don’t have it, it’s not important enough in the outcome to make it, but if you do, go for it!

printable version

2 c ground graham crackers
3 T sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 8-ounce packages neufchatel cheese (or 1/3 less fat cream cheese), room temperature
1/2 c maple sugar
3 T all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 c maple syrup
2/3 c sour cream
2 t vanilla extract
4 large eggs

2 c fresh or frozen cranberries (about 8 ounces)
1 c maple syrup
2/3 c sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c maple sugar

special supplies: 9-inch springform pan

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 F. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Bake crust until set and top edge of crust darkens slightly, about 10 minutes. Cool crust completely on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 F.

Beat cream cheese & neufchatel cheese in large bowl (using hand mixer or Kitchen-Aid) until very smooth. Add maple sugar, flour, and salt; beat until well blended and smooth. Add maple syrup, sour cream, and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add eggs, 2 at a time, and beat just until blended after each addition. Tap bowl several times on counter to release any air bubbles. Pour filling into cooled crust. Using tip of small knife, pop any air bubbles on surface.

Bake cake until slightly puffed around edges (center will still look moist and will jiggle a little when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer cake to rack and cool completely. Cover and chill overnight.

Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until berries pop, about 4 minutes. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.

Cut cheesecake into wedges. Divide among plates. Serve with warm compote.

I Am Thankful


I am thankful for my sister. She says what she is thankful for every day on facebook. She also likes Meatloaf. And since I enjoy her facebook gig, I’m going to try to catch up with her.

I am thankful for _____.

the guy upstairs pounding down the long hallway and the puppy downstairs yipping through the night.

mullets. Even if you have to drive to a Rush concert in Ohio to see them in the midwest. That don’t make no sense….

good mullet

the drool on my pillow. That means I had some good sleepin’ last night.

my father-in-law, who just had two knees replaced! He is one crazy mo-fo.

my mommy. today is her birthday. she’s getting old younger by the year.

my washing machine, even though it has started to tear my clothes. I will give it the boot soon. Love ‘Black Friday’ deals.

apple pie, with cranberries! If you behave, I’ll post the recipe below…

apple-cranberry pie filling

good wine; I only wish I had barrels of it and not bottles. *sigh*

wine barrels

my friends, some of my favorite people on earth. They also like to eat. A lot.

Thanksgiving 2008

my husband, as he is only very occasionally annoying but usually cute and delightful. Wait… is he trying to take off his wedding ring here? I guess there’s no better time than when you have balloons on your head and are in the midst of the famous “fist dance”…

Chris - New Year's

my cats, who can sleep standing up. that is so cool. and mine has great teeth. see? Thanks, Lindsay, for this lovely picture!


Rock Band. We love you, xbox game. Look how serious we are. Every. Year.

Rock Band 2007Rock Band 2008Rock Band 2009

knife skillz. that first turkey we made in 2004 was a massacre.

bad turkey carving 2004

and last but certainly not least, leftovers. we will eat you up like there’s no tomorrow. we always do.

Thanksgiving 2008 spread

Cranberry-Apple Crumble Pie
Adapted from Gourmet, November 2009; serves 8

printable recipe

You didn’t think I’d leave you with no recipe did you? Sure, Thanksgiving is officially over, BUT that never means that you can’t make more pie. You’re probably running low anyway, right? And this here pie is a great version of apple pie and a great way to use any leftover cranberries. Sweet and tart. That’s my kinda pie.

pastry dough
1 1/2 c ap flour
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T vegetable shortening, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3-4 T ice water

crumble topping
3/4 c ap flour
1/4 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 c pecans, coarsely chopped

fruit filling
2 lb mixed apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
8 oz fresh cranberries (or frozen, unthawed)
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
3 T ap flour
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

make pastry: blend flour, butter, shortening, and salt into bowl with fingertips or pastry cutter (or by pulsing in a food processor a few times) just until mix resembles coarse meal with some rough clumps. drizzle 3 T ice water and gently stir with a fork until incorporated. squeeze a portion, and if dough doesn’t clump together, add another T water. don’t overwork the dough! turn out dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and gather dough into round disk. cover with wrap and place in fridge for an hour.

make crumble topping: stir together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl. blend in butter with fingertips until large clumps form, then stir in pecans. chill until ready to use.

make fruit filling:  stir together apples, cranberries, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and lemon juice in a large bowl.

assemble pie: preheat oven to 425 F with rack in lower third. roll out dough on lightly floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit gently into pie plate. trim edges, leaving a 1/2-inch overhand, then fold and crimp. transfer fruit filling to pie shell. loosely cover with foil and bake until apples droop slightly, about 30 minutes. reduce oven to 375 F. sprinkle crumble topping over filling is bubbling, and apples are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour more. cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.