Thursday, November 13, 2008


Here's a nice chunk of black cod that I have seared quickly in a hot pan and have topped it off with a butter crumb crust with a little added garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil. I flashed that under the broiler for about 5 minutes to finish the cooking process and then I topped it off with a tomato and basil relish into which I added olive oil, lemon garlic, ,minced shallot and sea salt. The fish was served on a nice salad of fennel and red onion julienne. This was outstanding!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A few weeks back I was watching The Food Network with great interest. There was a pie baking competition on that featured six of America's top pie makers going head to head to win a $10,000 prize for making the best pies. They were all amateurs, but most of them had won titles in previous competitions. I was interested to see what amazing pies would be turned out by these experienced pie aficionados because I myself enjoy a good slice of pie now and again.

Well...I was sorely disappointed!

The skill level of these competitors was much lower than I had anticipated. Granted, the pressure was on these baker to make 3 different pies during the show and that ain't easy. I give them all credit for doing it. But several of them struggled to make a basic pie crust! One woman even admitted to not knowing how to make a short crust and she made all of her pies with a granolaesque crumb crust! Hilarious!

I would think that having the basic skills to make a top and bottom crust with a fruit filling in the middle that can be turned out of a pie plate and still resemble a slice of pie is necessary before lining up to compete in a nationally televised competition to do so. Maybe it's just me...I dunno.

Anyway, the competition was entertaining just for the fact that it was fun to watch these bakers flounder their way through the show. The sure winner didn't win. The rookie who had never competed before took first prize. Cool twist!

When I was in George Brown College serving my two years in Culinary Management, one of my favorite classes was baking. One of my favorite classes in baking was the day I learned how to properly make a pie. Before that class, I could make a decent pie, but I sure had trouble doing it. My teacher smoothed out the process for me and enlightened me to the fact that technique is key in pie production.

Here I have made a pumpkin pie with a crumble tipping. This is a simple one crust pie. Nothing is easier to make. My kids asked me to make this for them for Halloween so I did, and I showed my daughter how to make a crust on the counter and how to get it into a pie plate for filling and baking. Indeed, there is a technique to it.

The good news is that I'm going to photograph "Pie Making 101" and I'm going to post it here on Livingston Cooks. The bad news is that I am not including that in this particular post. Call me sadistic, I know...but those of you who are interested will have to be patient!


This is the pie. A single crusted pumpkin pie with a crumble topping which includes chopped pecans.

Here's a sexy close up shot which shows off the topping, the filling and the crust.

Just look at those pecan chunks!

And the crust looks nice and flaky!

Super close up.


The pie turns out nicely...

...and the flaky crust holds the filling as well as holding its integrity.

This was a good pie! I will update this post with the recipe soon. But right now I have to tidy up before Lola gets home. Yikes!!

Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crumble Topping


1 pastry (9-inch size) for single-crust pie


1 3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 1/4 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tablespoon salt


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-vegetable shortening
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecan, chopped


1. For filling, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
2. For topping, mix all ingredients into a coarse meal and set aside until needed.
3. Pour filling into prepared 9" pie shell (preferably deed dish).
4. Sprinkle topping evenly over the top of the filling.
5. Bake in a preheated oven set at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.


This is the other cheesecake I made for the fund-raising event. It is a Dulce de Leche Cheesecake. Dulce de Leche is a thick, rich caramel made by reducing and caramelizing sweetened condensed milk. Thus, this cheesecake is caramel flavored.

You will see here that the method for making this cheesecake is exactly the same as for the pumpkin cheesecake except for the flavoring of caramel which is added as opposed to pumpkin and spice. Also, you will notice that flour is used in this recipe rather than corn starch.

The method of whipping the cheese, creaming the cheese with sugar and then mixing in the eggs is the same for this batter. In fact, it's good to recognize that all cheesecake batters follow the same basic method as this. What comes after in terms of adding flavorings to the basic batter is where there's a fork in the road, but before that, cheesecakes batters are pretty much the same.

In baking you will see similarities when preparing batters, doughs and pastes. The more experience you gain, the easier these similarities are to see. because you will recognize patterns . For instance, mixing all wet ingredients together...combining all dry ingredients...and then adding dry to wet is pretty much the way things go for all baking. This is true for cookie doughs and pastes, cake batters and bread doughs. Creaming butter with sugar or eggs is another similarity as well. Make 10 batches of different cookies and you will see the pattern is the same for all cookies. The same applies for cheesecakes.

So...lets move on to see how this cheesecake is prepared, baked and decorated for the fund-raiser!

The cream cheese is whipped in a mixer with the paddle attachment to soften it up. If you have not got a mixer, use an elextric hand mixer or a wooden spoon. Another thing you may want to do if you are doing this by hand is warm the cheese to room temperature by leaving it on the counter for a few hours prior to mixing. Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

The flour, sugar and vanilla extract are added and incorporated thoroughly with the mixer.

The eggs are added and blended in thoroughly.

Now the batter is divided equally into two separate bowl. One half will be flavored with the caramel and the other will not.

The caramel is added to one half of the batter and is stirred in completely with a whisk.

Here you see the two batters. One is flavored and the other isn't. Not too hard, huh?

The unflavored batter is poured over the prebaked and cooled crumb crust.

I add a few dollups of caramel over top.

I pour the flavored batter over top carefully.

I give it a swirl with the tip of a knife to make it look...well...fancy?

This is a close up of the surface of the cake after is has been baked. Wait a minute, it could be a close up of the surface of the moon. Isn't the moon made of cheese?

I created a border of leaf-shaped cookies and then warmed some caramel and poured it into the center. The caramel firmed up as it cooled so it stayed right where I wanted it - in the center of the cake. I thought the cookies were a perfect shape for a cake that was made in Autumn. I found them at the grocery store.

This is the first time I made this cake and I didn't get to taste it. I hear it was very good however, so take is on good authority that you will like it if you make it. Please notice that I did things a little differently when it came time to pour my batters into the cake pan. This is not my recipe and I decided to play around with it a bit. The recipe is 100% acurate so follow it up until the time you pour batters. Follw the pictures at that point if you want to duplicate my version.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake


3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese (24 oz. total)
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Dulce de leche (sold in most grocery stores)


1. Preheat oven temperature to 325°F.

2. With an electric mixer beat cream cheese, sugar and flour together until well mixed and smooth. Add vanilla and beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until smooth. Add milk and mix until well blended.

3. Divide the cheesecake batter in half and pour into two bowls. Add Dulce de Leche sauce to one half of the batter and stir until well combined.

4. Pour plain batter over crust. Top with Dulce de leche batter by placing rounded spoonfuls over the cheesecake batter and gently swirl into plain batter with the tip of knife or spatula.

5. Bake in preheated 325°F (160°C) oven for 45-55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven and gently run metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen cheesecake (this helps prevent cracking). Let cool 20-25 minutes before covering and placing in the refrigerator. Refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or overnight before serving. If desired, serve each slice drizzled with a little bit of dulce de leche sauce, or pass around a bowl of dulce de leche sauce for guest's to help themselves.

Makes 16 servings. (Yeah right! In a perfect world!!!)

Friday, November 7, 2008


This recipe has already been posted on LIVINGSTON COOKS but I was asked to bake a couple of cheesecakes for a fund raising event and I thought I would bake a pumpkin cheesecake and post it here again. I baked two cheesecakes for the fund raiser - the pumpkin and the dulce de leche - but I knew the pumpkin would be the most popular of the two. The other recipe will follow this one in a day or two.

First the cream cheese must be softened for mixing with the other ingredients. I like to beat the hell out of it in the mixer until it's soft and fluffy. The paddle works best for this.

There ya go! Soft and fluffy just like I wanted it. Now we're ready to move ahead!

Now I add the brown and white sugar. Again, I will beat the hell out of this mixture until everything is light and fluffy!

There you have it...a light and fluffy cream of cheese and sugar. It looks light, creamy and smooth. This is exactly what you are looking for at this stage of the game!

Now I add the eggs, and again, I whip them in until incorporated thoroughly. At this point we have pretty much everything (and I say pretty much everything) to make athis cheesecake a go, but let's take a closer look at the chemestry involved here.

When it comes to making cheesecake, there is a lot going on in the process and we should understand how the process works. There are several factors at work that add volume and density to a cheesecake. The cream cheese is the backbone of the cake. There is no flour being used here yet we end up with a dense cake; that is mainly because of the cheese. But the eggs play a role in the solidification process too. The eggs coagulate during baking and this firms things up. And the corn starch (used to thicken sauces and such) also plays a role in solidification; as the batter gets hot, the corn starch thickens. And lastly, the cheese firms up during the chilling of the cake.

When the eggs are incorporated, the pumpkin, corn starch and spices are added and blended into the batter.

Everything is blended thoroughly.

The batter is poured into the spring form pan over top of the cooled graham crumb crust and is baked in the oven.

Here is the finished product decorated with a sour cream glaze and a pecan border.

Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake


1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
6 Tbsp melted butter

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine all ingredients. Press firmly into the bottom of a 10" spring form pan.
  • Bake for 10 minutes and cool thoroughly.


1 1/2 lbs cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp bourbon

  • Beat cream cheese, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time and whip until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Beat in pumpkin, spices, milk, bourbon and corn starch until smooth.
  • Pour over crust in spring form pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes or until set.

2 cups sour cream
1 Tbsp white granulated sugar
1 Tbsp bourbon

Thursday, November 6, 2008


First you have to melt some butter. I have melted one pound here. I won't need it all for the crust, but I am going to be making some stuffing for a chicken so I'll need some melted butter later on anyway, so...what the hell!

I brush a little butter onto the edges of my spring form pan before I use the butter for anything else.

Then I cut some parchment paper strips to line the pan. These are just a little wider than the height of the pan.

The butter brushed onto the sides of the pan helps the paper to stick o the sides of the pan. Why the parchment paper you ask? Well...without it the cheese cake will develop large cracks on top caused by the cake shrinking after baking. Without the paper, the batter stick to the inside of the pan and when the cake trys to shrink it cannot pull away from the pan which results in large cracks in the cake.

Pour graham cracker crumbs into a large mixing bowl.

Add sugar.

Drizzle with melted butter.

When the mixture will pack together when squeezed in your hand, no more butter is needed.

Pour crumb mixture into the spring form pan.

Tamp crumbs down firmly to make a crust. I use a flat bottomed glass or ramekin for this.

Bake @ 325 degrees for 10 minutes and cool.