The Pumpkin Cheesecake Before the Storm

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. — William Shakespeare

As I mentioned with my Hurricane Irene Penne Pasta, impending severe weather makes me want to cook. The latest hype here in the Northeast is Hurricane Sandy, AKA Frankenstorm, which is currently being touted as the hurricane to end all hurricanes. My kids are terrified of missing Halloween. I am terrified of missing my Ina Garten book signing. However, I know the news media loves the panic inducing rating’s gold of a big storm, and there is a good chance this will be no big deal. When I start getting overly anxious, I try to keep that in perspective. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to get swept up in the hysteria. And when I get swept up in hysteria, I eat. And when I eat, I bake.

This recipe has been sitting in my files for a while, and it’s perfect for some hysterical baking, Frankenstorm or not. Do heed the warnings about letting it sit overnight before releasing it from the spring-form pan; time is your friend when it comes to cheesecakes. This is very rich, so a little slice goes a long way. The ginger snaps in the crust are a lovely addition, as is the sour cream topping. Perfect for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Cheesecake from Joy of Baking, original recipe here


1 cup (100 grams) graham cracker crumbs (or crushed Digestive Biscuits)

1/2 cup (50 grams) crushed ginger cookies, homemade or store bought

1 tablespoon (15 grams) white sugar

4-5 tablespoons (57-70 grams) melted butter

Pumpkin Cheesecake:

2/3 cup (145 grams) light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2-8 ounce packages (450 grams) full fat cream cheese, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (240 ml) pure pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)

Pumpkin Cheesecake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick spray, an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan.

Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, crushed ginger cookies, sugar, and melted butter. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared  pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until set. Let cool.

In a separate bowl, stir to combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth (about 2 minutes). Gradually add the sugar mixture and beat until creamy and smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.

Pour the filling over the crust and place the spring form pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Place a cake pan, filled halfway with hot water, on the bottom shelf of your oven to moisten the air. Bake the cheesecake for 30 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees C (160 degrees C) and continue to bake the cheesecake for another 10 – 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed but the center is still a little wet and jiggles when you gently shake the pan. Total baking time 40 – 60 minutes.

Meanwhile stir together 1 cup (240 ml) sour cream, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and 1/4 cup (50 grams) white sugar. Spread the topping over the warm cheesecake and return the cheesecake to the oven and bake about 8 minutes to set the topping. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a sharp knife around the inside edge (this will help prevent the cake from cracking). Then place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pan so the cheesecake will cool slowly. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate at least eight hours, preferably overnight, before serving.

Serves 10 – 12

Thanksgiving 2011

Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted–a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. –Rabbi Harold Kushner

I started a long post outlining the many things for which I am thankful, and then I realized each one of those things deserves way more than two or three sentences. There were so many things on my list, and that’s a lot of words for Thanksgiving morning when we have turkeys to cook and pies to make. so I scratched that idea. I couldn’t possibly do justice to my family, friends and numerous blessings in anything shorter than a dozen pages. High class problems, indeed.

But I did want to take a moment to acknowledge you, my blog readers. Thank you for indulging “my little project” conceived while on vacation in Vermont this summer. I can’t tell you how much your positive comments, encouragement and support mean to me. I know your time is valuable, and taking a couple minutes out of your day to hear what I have to say or share your thoughts enriches my life more than you’ll ever know.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. — Albert Schweitzer

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dawn’s Hot-Cha-Cha Sauce

This year I’ve found myself with an abundance of Scotch Bonnet peppers from my garden. Hot sauce lover that I am, I decided it was time to finally attempt some hot sauce of my own. But first I needed to get over my life-long fear of botulism in order to jar my own homemade hot sauce. A little googling made me feel somewhat confident that I can do this. If not, it was nice knowing ya!

I have a very high tolerance for hot and spicy food (very, very high, perhaps freakishly high), so please heed my warning that this sauce is H O T hot, even for me, and adjust the recipe accordingly. I took all the elements from my favorite bottled sauces and tried to incorporate them into this recipe, and I’m very pleased with the flavor. Well, once I could feel my tongue again, I was pleased with the flavor. I also made this same recipe using jalapenos, and we enjoyed it over fish and rice.

Dawn’s Hot-Cha-Cha Sauce

20 – 30 Habañero or Scotch Bonnet peppers, or hot peppers of your choice

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 carrots, peeled (note: if you use extra hot peppers, you will NEED all four carrots)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Wearing gloves, cut any stems off of peppers, and add all ingredients in food processor. Pulse until well combined and fairly smooth. Jar or serve and refrigerate after opening.

Ask Mom Mom

Starting Monday, I will be launching an advice column on Mom Mom’s Apron called “Ask Mom Mom.” Please submit your questions to .

What qualifies me to run an advice column? Absolutely nothing, aside from many years of sharing my unsolicited opinions and wisdom with family and friends. For a know-it-all like me, this is a lifelong dream.

I am that sensible friend with the level head who sees the big picture, and I’m here to lovingly set you straight. No question is too small or too silly. All identities and emails will be kept confidential; please sign your question as you wish to appear in the column (for example, BD, Seattle). I give points for cleverness!

Just Keep Swimming Smoothy

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Dory, Finding Nemo

For a very long time, I have loved swimming, despite not being an especially good or graceful swimmer. I just like it, plain and simple. I like how I feel weightless, almost like flying. I like how my body feels afterwords, both tired and relaxed at the same time. I like how it’s the only place where my million-thoughts-a-minute brain is not thinking or worrying about anything other than staying afloat and not hitting the person next to me. It’s as close to meditation as I’ll probably ever come.

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.  John “The Penguin” Bingham, runner and writer

Swimming, for me at this age, comes with lots of barriers. When it comes to excuses, I am an Olympic athlete. I could write a whole post dedicated to my excuses, but instead I’ll just say this: ugly and unflattering Speedo bathing suit, expensive hair + chlorine = green hair, extra large head stuffed in a swim cap, painful goggles, looking like a fat, clumsy fool in public, and, uh, personal grooming. You want more? Oh, I’ve got more.

Recently I cast all my excuses aside and jumped back in the pool after a twenty year hiatus. All of those silly things that mattered so much to me mean nothing once I’m in the pool. It has truly been one of the best things I have done for myself, and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

True nobility isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be. Dr. Wayne Dyer

I can never eat too much before a workout, but watch out after! Today I made a very unwise food choice for my post-swimming meal, so I decided to concoct something healthy and filling for tomorrow’s breakfast: a green smoothie! I have been on and off the smoothie train over the years, and I feel like the time is right to introduce them back into my world. Who knows what other good things will follow? In the meantime, I will just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

Just Keep Swimming Smoothy

Serves 2

2 cups plain Greek Yogurt

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 cup uncooked spinach

1 pitted peach

1 teaspoon real vanilla

1 Tablespoon real maple syrup

Milk (optional)

Combine all in blender until smooth. Add milk to thin it out if desired.

Hurricane Irene Baked Penne with Sausage and Peppers

Severe weather makes me want to cook. Quite possibly this is due to our frequent and sometimes prolonged power outages and fear of losing my refrigerator’s contents.

Today I was determined to use the last of the tomato crop to make homemade sauce, something I have never done before with fresh tomatoes. I blanched and then peeled and then simmered and then congratulated myself on being such an outstanding homemaker, the kind who makes fresh sauce right before a hurricane. Pride is a sin; when will I learn that? I was grinding some sea salt into my sauce when — BOOM! — the top broke off and dumped about 20 tablespoons of salt into my pot. Then I cried a little.

All that work down the drain!

When faced with going out to the store for tomatoes with all of the crazies buying batteries and milk, Ed decided hunting down more tomatoes from the garden was the preferable option. These were not the grade A tomatoes I just ruined (shown below, RIP), but there were enough to make another sauce. I was kind of hoping he would have fetched me a couple jars of Barilla at this point, but sometimes you just have to start over. I put on Pandora’s French Cafe music station and got back to work.

Peeled tomatoes

Shallot, basil and garlic

This will work equally well with ziti or penne, with sausage or without. Don’t skimp on the cheese, though!

Simple Tomato Sauce

About 10 Roma or plum tomatoes, peeled and cut in half

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 handful of basil

1/2 cup red wine

salt to taste

In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot to soften for about two minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, garlic, tomatoes, wine, and sugar. Cover with lid ajar and simmer over low heat, about 30 minutes. With potato masher, break up tomatoes until well combined, and continue to simmer for at least another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste, being careful not to dump the whole container into your pot.


2 cans premium tomato sauce

Hurricane Irene Baked Penne with Sausage and Peppers


Sauce of your choice, see above

1 package ziti or penne, cooked to al dente instructions

1 pound sausage, browned (I used hot Italian poultry sausage, Irene’s favorite)

1 onion, chopped

1 large pepper, chopped

Whole milk ricotta cheese, 15 oz.

2 cups shredded whole milk mozzarella


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brown sausage and add to sauce, simmering on low. In same skillet, saute onion and pepper, then add to sauce. Mix in ricotta cheese until well combined. Add 1 cup mozzarella, stir well, and then add pasta. All ingredients are now in one pot, see below.

Pour into a deep casserole dish or 13 x 9 glass pan, spread evenly, and top with one cup mozzarella. Bake for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serve with red wine, unless you are worried that you will be without power for several days and want to save your wine for emergencies.

Dawn’s Ten Tomato Garden Salsa

Google “salsa recipes” and you will find approximately four million. This is my own spin on classic salsa. Is it unique? Not especially. Is it a good use of ten tomatoes from a garden overrun with tomatoes? Most definitely! It is simple and fresh, with a bit of heat…probably somewhere between medium and hot.


10 ripe (but not necessarily perfect looking) tomatoes. I used mostly Romas today.

2 jalapeno peppers, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped (not minced)

1/2 red onion, diced

1 Vidalia (or other sweet) onion, diced

1 lime, juiced

1/2 to 1 cup of cilantro, chopped

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt


In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for tomatoes, and mix well. Use caution when handling the jalapenos.

Dice tomatoes and add to the bowl. Stir gently. Cover and chill for at least two hours to let the flavors properly develop. You will want to try it sooner, but don’t! It will be worth the wait. This yields a lot of liquid, so use a slotted spoon when placing in serving bowl.

Almost the last of the tomato crop.

Two of the dozens of jalapenos we have growing in our garden.

Just add chips and beer!

Wegmans Red Quinoa Avocado Salad

I love quinoa. It’s fun to eat, and it’s fun to say. (And just in case you’re unsure, it’s pronounced KEEN-wah). Quinoa, quinoa, quinoa! Quinoa is one amazing little grain. Technically it’s a chenopod. One important thing to know about quinoa, aside from its deliciousness and versatility, is that it’s very healthy and a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. Another important thing to know is that you shouldn’t eat all ten servings of this by yourself, even if you want to. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Wegmans is my grocery store of choice. This recipe first appeared in the Wegmans Winter 2011 Menu magazine, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not only is it healthy and delicious, it’s also beautiful (or “aesthetically pleasing,” as our friends at Project Runway would say). It is the perfect summer salad and quite the crowd pleaser.

I feel the same way about salad dressing as I do about frosting: Always make your own! It’s super easy and so much healthier. So while you can certainly buy the Wegmans brand lemon vinaigrette, I am also including my own lemon vinaigrette recipe below for you to try.


1 pkg (7 oz) Red Quinoa, cooked per pkg directions, chilled
1 pkg (12 oz) Frozen Super-Sweet Corn, thawed
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup green onions, thinly sliced on the bias (I used a red onion since it’s all I had on hand)
2 plum tomatoes, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup). Ed likes extra tomatoes.
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, cubed small
1/2 cup Food You Feel Good About Lemon Vinaigrette
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper


Add cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, green onions, and tomatoes to mixing bowl. Fold in avocados and dressing; mix until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper; serve.


Dawn’s Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisk together:
Juice of one large lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. maple syrup

Hello world!

They say write what you know, and while I don’t know much, I do have a knack for scouting out the best recipes and making them part of my repertoire. Join me as I put on Mom Mom’s apron and share my favorite recipes with you, as well as some thoughts on life.