Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

bourbon pumpkin cheesecake

For Eric's recent Thanksgiving potluck, I made two desserts: a bourbon pumpkin cheesecake and a pecan pumpkin pie. The bourbon pumpkin cheesecake was the more popular of the desserts: rich and creamy, yet light. (And for those worried, even though I doubled the bourbon, the bourbon flavor is a very light accent.)

I modified Gourmet's recipe, using techniques from Cook's Illustrated and based upon recommendations by the reviewers on Epicurious. Given that my audience would include many local Taiwanese, I was concerned about the sweetness and texture - aiming for something less sweet and airier in texture. I still wanted something rich, however, without any of the floury dryness that so many Taiwanese cheesecakes suffer from.

Neither Costco nor Jason's Supermarket at 101 carried graham crackers, so I used Honey Graham O's breakfast cereal purchased at my local Wellcome. I've heard of others successfully substituting Digestive biscuits for the graham crackers. The canned pumpkin came from Jason's (which is currently carrying the larger 20 oz can from the 15 oz can which they carried last year), where I was also excited to find a little sample bottle of Jim Beam. The cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, and unsalted butter came from Costco. If you can handle the bulk size and earlier expiration date, cream cheese is nearly half the price when purchased at Costco instead of Wellcome.

My modifications: for the crust, besides substituting the sweeter cereal for the graham crackers, I eliminated the white sugar and increased the pecans by 1/4 cup. I also toasted the pecans and pre-baked the crust for 15 minutes. Following the recommendations from the folks at Cook's Illustrated, I blotted the pumpkin on 3 paper towels, with 1 more paper towel on top. I also doubled the bourbon and spices, added 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, and used 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger for the 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger called for in the recipe. I put the springform pan on a small baking sheet and baked it over a water bath. Finally, for the sour cream topping, I substituted 10 oz of heavy cream for 1 cup of the sour cream to lighten it.

The next time I make this, I'm not even going to make the crust. Even though I pre-baked the crust, it still came out soggy, which is inevitable with the refrigeration required of the cheesecake before serving. I think I'm going to make everything as is, and then make a sort of "reverse" cheesecake with the crust patted on right before serving. I'll also not bother with a water bath.

blotting canned pumpkin on paper towels to absorb excess moistureblotting canned pumpkin on paper towels to absorb excess moisture

24 oz of cream cheese (!)
24 oz of cream cheese (!)

I doubled the spices, used fresh grated ginger, and added allspice.I doubled the spices, used fresh grated ginger, and added allspice.

A sample sized bottle of Jim Beam for only NT$55 at Jason'sA sample sized bottle of Jim Beam for only NT$55 at Jasons

Pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur...Pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur...

...whisk together to make heavenly cheesecake batter!...whisk together to make heavenly cheesecake batter!

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
Adapted from Gourmet

For the crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (or substitute Honey O's cereal or Digestive biscuits)
3/4 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For Filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin, blotted (see note)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon liqueur or bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons freshly ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For Topping
1 cup sour cream (10 oz)
10 oz heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon

Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust:
1. Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create a flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and line the pan with baking parchment.
2. Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugar, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur in a bowl until combined.
3. Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.
4. Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make Topping:
1. Whisk together sour cream, heavy cream, sugar, and liqueur in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.
2. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.
3. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and serve chilled.

Note: Blot the pumpkin before using by scooping it out onto a baking sheet lined with 3 paper towels, and cover with another layer or two of paper towels. This will absorb excess moisture.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bangkok's Health Land Massage - for those in-the-know

Now that the Bangkok airport siege has ended, a trip to Thailand (one of my favorite travel destinations) seems more appealing. One of the biggest reasons why I love traveling to Thailand (and have never complained about having a layover there), is the traditional Thai massage.

Although Naruwan at Body Tune is my favorite masseuse in Bangkok, lately my husband and I have been going to Health Land Spa & Massage, which is the place for those in-the-know. If you go to Bangkok fairly often (as we do), or you will be in Bangkok long enough, quickly make your way to Health Land. You can buy a coupon book for 10 2-hour Traditional Thai massages for 3,500 Baht, which works out to 350 Baht per 2-hour massage. The price cannot be beat, the quality is uniformly high, and the facilities clean and attractively presented.

I do recommend making a reservation, as their masseuses get booked up. If you don't want to wait, they can arrange a private room, which incurs an additional 100 Baht fee. (The regular massage takes place in a large room with individual partitioned massage spaces, which are perfectly fine.) We go to the Sathorn branch, but there are 3 other locations in Bangkok and one in Pattaya as well

Health Land Spa & Massage, Sathorn Branch
120 North Sathorn Road, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
+66 0 2637 8883
Open daily 9:00-23:00

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jaruwan at Body Tune has the hands of a baseball pitcher - and that's a good thing

The best masseuse I've ever had (and I love my massage) is Jaruwan (#7) at Body Tune massage on Silom Road near the Sala Daeng BTS Skytrain station. She is the nicest lady and knows intuitively what spots need extra attention. She was so good, that after my first two-hour Thai massage session, I returned the next day. And after continuing onto Cambodia, ventured back out to the city during my return layover at Bangkok airport to squeeze in another massage. As a friend said, who went after I recommended her, she has the hands of a baseball pitcher - and that's a good thing. Back in 2003, a 2-hour massage was about $15. Prices have risen ever so slightly since then, but a massage in Thailand is way more reasonably priced than in any western country.

Body Tune, Silom Branch
56 Yada Bldg., 2nd Flr., Suriyawong, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
56 อาคารญาดา ชั้น 2 ถนนสุริยวงศ์ บางรัก กรุงเทพฯ 10500
+66 0 2238 4377
near the BTS Saladaeng Station, Exit 3

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yuma Southwestern Grill: fabulous falling-off-the-bone ribs

Yesterday, after Shan and I got our haircuts, we decided to head over to what I refer to as Taipei's newest gourmet ghetto for lunch. We we're thinking perhaps Mary's Hamburger, or Toasteria, or Alleycats. (The great benefit to a gourmet ghetto is that you don't have to make decisions until you arrive and then choose whatever strikes your fancy.) As we walked down the alley off of Lane 216 past Din Tai Fung, we were struck by the bright facade of Yuma Southwestern Grill.

Yuma Southwestern Grill Facade

The menu posted on the sign looked promising, and most importantly, the food some diners were having looked good. So we decided to try it out. We chose to sit outside as the inside still smelled a little of paint (the restaurant had opened just a day before), and ordered:

Roasted Pumpkin Soup, NT$90

The Duke - flame grilled ribs with your choice of sauce (we chose cranberry and honey), handcut fries, and coleslaw, NT$430

and a Sierra Spinach Wrap, NT$175

The pumpkin soup was so good, I obviously forgot to take a photo until we had eaten half of it. Unlike most pumpkin soups in Taiwan, it wasn't watery with "essence of cream" flavor and just a hint of pumpkin. It was thick and creamy, and a dollop of sour cream on top provided richness and contrast.

The ribs were delicious - falling-off-the-bone tender, juicy, and the sauce was just the right balance of tangy and sweet. The coleslaw that came with it was one of the best coleslaws I've ever had. Just enough mayonnaise to keep it moist, just enough tang to keep the flavor sharp, and crunchy veg.

The fries are very good, too - not at all greasy, soft and mealy on the inside, and crisp on the outside. The first time had them, I personally found them a little too brown on the outside for my taste (I think the chefs forgot to sprinkle on chili powder), so the browned flavor was overwhelming, although Shan thought them just right. The second time I had them, the fries were dusted with chili powder and were perfect.

The only disappointment to our meal was the spinach wrap, which was overwhelmed by the cranberry and orange vinaigrette. Joe, the manager, assured me that they are still tweaking that recipe. Yuma's founders include Alan Pontes, the founder of Alleycats Pizza, so I'm confident they'll be able to deliver. They already have a promising start.

Overall, it was a great meal. If you know your Taipei Tex-Mex options (and there aren't that many), it is as good as Chili's, but less greasy and more reasonably priced.

The restaurant has a fairly spacious patio, and since it located on a quiet alley off of the lively Lane 216 on ZhongXiao, you don't have to worry about inhaling scooter fumes along with your food. On the inside, there is a small bar and large spaces with gaily painted walls that would be suitable for a large group of friends. There's also a smaller room that would be great for a private party.

Update 11/26: I enjoyed my dining experience so much, I got a jonesing for their ribs and returned three days later. This time, I tried their dry rub ribs and it was excellent. I also tried the chicken salad, which was very good as well. I especially liked the ranch dressing, which was very thick and creamy. Yum.

Yuma Southwestern Grill - highly recommended now closed
#21 Alley 11, Lane 216, ZhongXiao East Road, Section 4, Taipei