Monday, November 28, 2011

Marie Callender's Style Lemon Cream Cheese Pie

I made a lemon cream cheese pie recently for dessert for a dinner party and it went over really well. I used a recipe I found in one of Todd Wilbur’s “Super Secret” copycat cookbooks (I love all of his cookbooks, by the way, and highly recommend them!). This is a copycat version of Marie Callender’s lemon cream cheese pie (a favorite of mine when I used to live in California, where the restaurant chain is quite popular!). I did do a few things differently from Todd Wilbur’s recipe. I added extra sugar (I thought the lemon filling was too sour if I went by the cookbook) and twice as much lemon juice (otherwise, I didn’t hardly taste enough lemon). I also used my own graham cracker crust recipe, and I garnished the pie with whipped cream. Here’s the recipe:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/ 3 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 T. light brown sugar
Dash salt

Cream cheese filling:
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 large egg

Lemon filling:
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 T. cornstarch (heaping)
Dash salt
1 cup filtered water
2 large egg yolks
4 T. lemon juice
1 T. butter

Whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
Optional: 1 packet whipped cream stabilizer

Combine the crust ingredients together and pat into an 8-inch pie plate. Refrigerate until ready to fill. Next, prepare the cream cheese filling layer. Beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar together until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix until fluffy. Pour the filling into the crust and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes (filling should be set and will appear “poofy.”). Remove pie from oven. Let it set for about 10-15 minutes at room temperature. While it is setting, it will “poof down” a bit. During this time, make the lemon filling.

Prepare the lemon filling by mixing together the first four lemon filling ingredients together in a small saucepan. Cook over a low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously. It will thicken up slightly. After it does, whisk in egg yolks, lemon juice and butter. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture simmers again. Pour the filling over cream cheese filling and refrigerate several hours until cold and set. Finally, beat the four whipped cream topping ingredients together, and pipe onto top of pie (or just spread on top). Refrigerate until serving. This recipe can be made up until one day in advance.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pecan Pie Tartlets

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Yippee! It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Like a lot of people, I am busy baking all day today. We’ve got 26 people coming to dinner, which means by my dessert-to-guest ratio, I need about 10 kinds of dessert! One of the desserts I made is pecan tartlets. I just pulled them out of the oven.

The recipe I use for pecan tartlets comes from King Arthur Flour. I follow it pretty closely, only rather than use a hamburger bun pan or a mini muffin tin as the recipe suggested, I like to use either my Nordic Ware Tartlet pan (which I’ve mentioned in many different blog posts over the past year) or individual-sized tartlet tins.

What I like about this recipe is that is uses Lyle’s Golden Syrup, instead of the more traditional corn syrup. This adds a lot of flavor.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to try it:


2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
5 T. unsalted butter
2/3 cup Crisco or other shortening, chilled in freezer
5-6 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water on top of flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 5 tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. If it doesn't, sprinkle an additional tablespoon of water onto the dough. Roll out and press into tartlet pans. Refrigerate until ready to fill.

6 large eggs
1 ½ cups Lyle’s Golden Syrup (a sugar cane syrup made in the U.K., but available in many specialty food stores in the U.S. and online from
2 cups granulated sugar
6 T. melted butter
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups unsalted, raw pecans, slightly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs, syrup, sugar, butter, salt and vanilla together. Spoon around 1/8 cup of filling into each tartlet cavity. Sprinkle pecans over the filling, dividing them evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 15-20 minutes (until filling is set). Remove from pans and cool on rack before serving. Makes 36-48 tartlets.

Happy baking…and eating!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Plan a Soup Party!

With the cold fall/winter weather upon us, one of my favorite ways is to entertain is with a soup party. It’s easy, tasty, and especially scrumptious when the wind is howling or there’s snow on the ground.

Now, a “soup party” can mean a lot of different things to different people. For many, it just means a simple dinner party where a main dish soup, or several types of soup, is the main course. To me, a “soup party” is a type of potluck get-together where guests bring their favorite homemade soup.

Usually the host provides 1-2 main dish soups, along with some accompaniments like fresh yeast bread and/or cornbread (either homemade or from the bakery), a tossed green salad and maybe a “comfort” dessert like bread pudding or apple crisp. Then guests (usually one batch of soup per family/couple) can each bring a batch of their own favorite soup, or perhaps additional menu items like the desserts and wine or other beverages. I like to ask guests to make labels identifying their soups, so everyone knows what type of soup they’re sampling.

During the meal, provide soup mugs or bowls for guests to sample the different soups—kind of like what you might do at a soup and salad bar. You can also provide “to go” containers and lids for guests to take favorite soups home with them.

To add to the ambiance, you might want to place a large basket of freshly-baked bread at the center of your table(s), have mulled, spiced apple cider warming on the stovetop or in a crockpot, and light your fireplace if you have one—just to add to the cozy, relaxed mood of the get-together.

Here are five of my favorite soup recipes. When I host a soup party, I will usually pick a couple of these to make.

1. Copycat Applebee’s Tomato Basil Soup
This recipe came from Todd Wilbur’s cookbook, Top Secret Recipes 3. It is my all-time favorite soup recipe:

1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup minced white onion
2 (28-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
¾ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup minced fresh basil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Garlic butter or other seasoned croutons
Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the teaspoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and then add the onion and garlic. Saute for about a minute and then add the crushed tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let mixture cool, uncovered, for 30 minutes or so.

Pour approximately half of the tomato mixture into a blender. Put the lid on the blender and hold it down with a dish towel. (The mixture might still be hot and you don’t want the lid of the blender coming off.) Blend on a high speed for about a minute; then pour the mixture into a large bowl or pitcher. Then pour the remaining unblended soup mixture into the blender and blend on high speed for about a minute.

Pour all the pureed tomato mixture back into the saucepan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Bring the soup back to a bubble, and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish each with croutons and Parmesan cheese.

2. Potato Cheese Soup

8 cups peeled and diced Russet potatoes
3 large white or yellow onions, peeled and died
8 stalks celery, sliced thinly
2 tsp. salt
8 cups (64 oz.) water
4 cups half and half
6 T. butter
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Optional: Fresh chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Put potatoes, onions, celery, salt and water in stock pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Turn off heat and let it cool about 15 minutes. Then put mixture in blender or food processor and chop until chunky. Return mixture to stockpot and add the half-and-half, butter and cheese. Stir over low heat, until cheese is melted. Serve with parsley, if desired.

3. Tortilla Soup

2 T. oil
1 medium sized yellow onion, diced
1 (4 oz.) can seeded and chopped green chilies
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 (14 ½ oz.) can tomatoes, chopped
2 (10 ½ oz.) cans chicken broth
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups tomato juice
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. steak sauce
1 T. lime juice

Saute onions, chilies and garlic in oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 hour. Serve hot with tortilla chips, grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese, and diced fresh cilantro.

4. Crock Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked
2 quarts filtered water
10-12 celery stalks (with leaves), cut into ¼-inch slices (about 3 cups)
2 lb. bag of fresh carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 T. salt
1 ½ tsp. granulated sugar
½ to 1 tsp. (depending on taste) ground black pepper
8 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 T. ground chicken bouillon
3 cups uncooked thin egg noodles

Put all ingredients in 6 ½ to 7 quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. During last 30 minutes of cooking time, put uncooked noodles in soup in crocker; this will cook the noodles. Makes about 16 large servings of soup.

5. Crock Pot Vegetable Beef Soup

1 pound boneless beef ribs or shanks
8 cups (64 oz.) filtered water
1 (14 ½ oz.) can tomatoes, broken up
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
5 celery stalks, with tops, sliced
2 yellow neck squash, sliced
2 cups fresh green green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 medium potatoes, sliced and diced
½ cup frozen corn kernels
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. dried parsley
7 beef bouillon cubes

Put all ingredients in 1 ½ to 5 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 12 to 24 hours. Before serving, break up beef into small, bite-size pieces.

Happy soup making!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tex Mex Chicken Salad

When I used to live in California, one of my favorite fast-food restaurants was El Pollo Loco. They make a grilled chicken tossed salad that is absolutely wonderful. It features a delicous creamy cilantro salad dressing. Recently, I came across a copycat version of this salad dressing recipe in Todd Wilbur’s book, Top Secret Recipes Unlocked. I’ve used that recipe—with a few slight modifications—to help create a TexMex chicken salad that is very similar to the salad served at El Pollo Loco. The recipe is below. I’ve served it as a main dish for luncheons, and it always goes over well.


½ head iceberg lettuce
½ bunch leaf lettuce
1 cup canned sweet corn
1 cup canned black beans
1 cup fresh salsa or pico de gallo
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled
1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. tortilla strips salad toppings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, marinated in a spicy herb marinade, grilled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Creamy cilantro salad dressing (see recipe below)

First, marinate the chicken, and after several hours, grill it and slice it into pieces. (Just about any spicy marinade will do; I often marinate the chicken using McCormick's "Mexican Fiesta" or “Zesty Herb” marinade packets.) Refrigerate the cooked chicken pieces until you’re ready to toss the salad.

Next, make the salad dressing, and chill that until you’re ready to pour it on the salad.

No more than 30 minutes before serving, combine the lettuce, corn, beans and pico de gallo in a large salad bowl. Add the cheese, tortilla strips and chicken breasts and stir together. Just before serving, add the salad dressing and stir just until most of the salad ingredients are moistened. Serve immediately. Makes 5-6 main entrée-sized portions.


1 cup mayonaise
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced finely
2 tsp. lime juice
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. crushed garlic
¼ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. black peper
¼ tsp. ground cumin

Whisk all of the ingredients together until smooth in a quart-sized bowl or salad dressing bottle. Chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.

Happy salad making!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Product Recommendation: Bronze Turkey Placecard Holders for Thanksgiving

Looking for something cute to dress up your Thanksgiving table this year? I recommend these antique bronze placecard holders from Tag. They come in packs of four, for $19.95 a package, with free shipping—if you buy them from Their service is very fast; I got my placecard holders in a week’s time. So if you order this week, you’re sure to get them by Thanksgiving.

Each placecard holder is 3.13” high by 2.38” in width. These are very sturdy placecard holders, and are sure to last for many years to come. I’ve bought other Thanksgiving placecard holders in years past that were quite cute as well, but they just didn’t hold up and pieces started falling off or breaking. But these placecard holders are far more sturdy. Not only that, I like the antique bronze finish, which is a nice accent to most fall table settings. Also, I think the turkeys are super adorable, but not too “cutesy” if you’re having a more formal table setting.

Each box of four placecard holders comes with eight blank cards. These are your standard rectangular white placecard holders. I decided to get a little fancier, so I went to Hobby Lobby (one of my favorite stores of all time!) and bought some cream colored card stock and cut those out into rectangular shapes. The I wrote guests’ names on the cards using brown ink and my calligraphy pen. Next, I spray-mounted those onto larger rectangles, which I cut out of very sparkly, rust-colored card stock (which will match my table cloth and napkins quite well).

Not only are these placecard holders decorative, they are also very functional. We are having 25 people over for Thanksgiving this year. With large sit-down dinners like this, I like to decide ahead of time where everyone should sit—rather than just try to figure out after everyone arrives and dinner’s ready (and cooling down fast!) where everyone should sit. (Have you ever gone with a large group to a restaurant? Trying to figure out where everyone should sit can be a real challenge!) I like figuring dinner party seating in advance. It saves a lot of time, and you can put in some thought to ensuring people are sitting next to other guests they will enjoy talking with.

Well, that’s all for now. Just thought I’d recommend a nice product!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just 2 ½ weeks away! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I’m already busy doing advance prep work for our Thanksgiving meal. I just made a batch of pumpkin cranberry bread, and I froze it. It’s delicious with a Thanksgiving meal—and it freezes wonderfully, and is makes a very moist bread. I just pull the loaves out of the freezer the day before Thanksgiving and let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight. No one would ever guess they were made several weeks in advance and frozen.


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 (15 oz.) can solid pack pumpkin
1 ½ cup fresh cranberries, chopped

In large bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. In small mixer bowl, beat eggs; beat in sugar, oil and pumpkin. Pour pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Stir in cranberries. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. (I like to use parchment paper at the bottom of the pans to prevent sticking.) Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 60 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans. Makes 2 regular sized, or 5 miniature sized loaves.

Happy baking!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Traditional--and Favorite--Thanksgiving Desserts

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, I have been busy planning out my menu and table decorations.

In one sense, the menu is pretty standard. Probably like most people, I make many of the same dishes for Thanksgiving year after year. They are traditional family—and guest—favorites.

In particular, there are four desserts I like to make every year for Thanksgiving. You might like them too. Here are the recipes:


1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1 (15 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, cold
½ cup chopped pecans

Combine pumpkin, condensed milk, egg, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Blend well. Pour into pie shell and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes. While that is cooking, make topping. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix flour, brown sugar and butter together until crumbling. Mix in pecans. After removing pie from oven, spread topping on top. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Return pie to oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Chill pie in refrigerator at least 1-2 hours before serving. If desired, serve with whipped cream.


1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell
2 cups freshly cooked and mashed sweet potatoes or yams
3 T. unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. grated orange peel
1 ½ cups half-and-half

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Blend sweet potatoes and sugars together; add eggs and beat until well-combined. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and half-and-half. Blend thoroughly. Pour into pie crust. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until filling is set and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool, and serve with whipped cream.


2 cups Oreo crumbs (crush cookies with the white filling)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Kahlua
2 T. unsalted butter
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 cup confectioner’s sugar
Optional: chocolate-covered espresso beans, chocolate leaves or chocolate leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).

In a bowl combine chocolate wafer crumbs and melted butter, and press into bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate until time to fill.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt semi-sweet chocolate chips with 2 T. butter. Add Kahlua and stir over heat just until mixture is melted and blended together. Remove from stovetop and set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in sour cream. Pour in cooled chocolate mixture and blend well. Spoon into chilled cookie crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until filling is set. Remove from the oven and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

To garnish, whip cream and powdered sugar to stiff peaks. Add vanilla. Spread whipped cream on cake and garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, chocolate leaves or chocolate leaves.


2 cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 T. unsalted butter, melted

3 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
½ lb. white chocolate, melted

1 can cherry pie filling
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 envelope “Whip-It” whipped cream stabilizer

First make the crust. Combine the three crust ingredients together and press on the bottom and 2-3 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or until filling is ready.

To prepare filling, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla, mixing until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in white chocolate; mix well. Pour over crust. Bake at 350 degrees F, for 45-50 minutes, or until center is set. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

When ready to add topping and garnish the cake, remove the cake from the springform pan. Beat whipping cream, vanilla, powdered sugar and whipped cream stabilizer together. Spoon cherry pie filling into top center of cake, leaving a 1 ½ to 2 inch border around cake to pipe whipping cream. Spoon whipped cream into decorator bag and pipe cream around top edge of cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. With whipped cream stabilizer, cake can be garnished 24 hours in advance of serving. Makes 10-12 servings.

Happy dessert making!