Apple Cider Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Baked Apples

  

Being that I’m working Christmas this year, my mom was kind enough to do most of the cooking and baking this Thanksgiving. Knowing that I wouldn’t be in the kitchen all day allowed me to be super relaxed and visit with as many family members as possible. However, knowing that I couldn’t show up completely empty-handed, I wanted to create a really special dessert.

While pumpkin pie and applie pie are quintessential Thanksgiving desserts, family members have already claimed them as their signature dishes. Thus, I wanted to bring something that we all know and love, but that isn’t part of our usual spread – cheesecake. Wanting to use the apple cider that I had on hand, I soon envisioned an apple cider cheesecake. Of course, I didn’t stop there and threw salted caramel and baked apples into the mix. 

Well, given the reactions of my family – especially my little brother – I’d say it was a hit. As expected, the flavors complemented each other extremely well. The salted caramel kept it from being overwhelmingly sweet, and the cheesecake itself was perfectly dense. In my humble opinion, this is the ultimate fall cheesecake and is certainly a dessert to impress. 

Note: The salted caramel recipe yields 2 cups, or enough to fill a pint jar. For the purposes of this recipe, you’ll need only 1 cup, but trust me, you’ll want extra. Both the salted caramel and the baked apples can be prepped up to 2 days in advance and should be stored in the refrigerator until ready for use. The cheesecake can be assembled several hours prior to being served, but it should be stored in the refrigerator until just prior to serving. 

Part 1: Salted Caramel

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup pure cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. sea salt

What you’ll do:

  • Combine sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil for approximately 5 minutes
  • Remove mixture from heat and whisk in the cream, followed by the butter and salt
  • Allow to cool, and transfer to a mason jar

   

Part 2: Baked Apples

What you’ll need:

  • 4 baking apples, peeled and sliced (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. filtered water
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

What you’ll do:

  • Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a mixing bowl; toss the apples in the mixture
  • Over medium heat, combine the water and butter in a saucepan and allow to melt; add the apple mixture and cook for approximately 8 minutes, or until tender

Part 3: Graham Cracker Crust

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups graham crackers, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Coconut oil spray

What you’ll do:

  • Generously spray a pie dish with coconut oil
  • Combine the graham crackers, cinnamon, and butter in a mixing bowl; once combined, pour the mixture into the pie dish, and press it into the base and the sides of the dish
  • Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes

  

Part 4: Apple Cider Cheesecake Filling

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 2 blocks of cream cheese, softened
  • 3 cage-free eggs
  • 1 cup pure cane sugar
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

What you’ll do:

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F
  • Add apple cider to a saucepan and bring to a boil for approximately 10 minutes, or until reduced down to 1/2 cup
  • Meanwhile, add cream cheese to a mixing bowl; beat with a handheld mixer on low speed for approximately 1 minute, or until smooth
  • Then, add the eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition
  • Next, add the sugar and beat for approximately 2 minutes, or until creamy
  • Lastly, add the Greek yogurt, vanilla extract, and reduced apple cider, and beat until just combined
  • Pour the mixture atop the graham cracker crust, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake for approximately 45 minutes
  • When baking is complete, allow to cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, and allow to chill in the fridge, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours

Part 5: Assembly

What you’ll need:

  • Prepped cheesecake
  • 1 cup salted caramel
  • Prepped apples

What you’ll do: 

  • Once the cheesecake has chilled, pour a layer of salted caramel overtop; be sure to leave a 1 inch border between the crust and where the layer of caramel begins
  • To create a floral design with the apples, place the apples on top of the outermost portion of the caramel layer, facing the rounded edges outward; work in a spiral pattern, overlapping the apples as you go, until the centermost portion of the cheesecake is reached

  

Eucalyptus, Green Tea, and Aloe Vera Soap

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I made my first batch of soap in August, and between gifting them to family, friends, and coworkers, my supply has already dwindled. While the combination of goat’s milk and lavender was divine, I’ve never been one to try the same thing twice. While I’m still using goat’s milk as my soap base, I opted for eucalyptus, green tea, and aloe vera in lieu of lavender this time around.

Given that winter is rapidly approaching, I used eucalyptus knowing just how wonderful it is for those sinuses. Further, since green tea is known to brighten skin and aloe vera is known to soothe skin, I figured that they would be excellent additions considering how drying and harsh winter can be on the skin. Speaking of winter, handmade soap makes for a lovely, yet affordable holiday gift. :)

Notes:

  • You can use store-bought aloe juice, or extract aloe juice from your very own plant. For the purposes of this recipe, you’ll need two large aloe vera leaves. First, slice the leaves lengthwise to expose the aloe. Second, scoop out the aloe and add to a blender. Discard the remaining leaf. Third, blend until liquefied. Fourth, strain through a cheese cloth, discarding the cheesecloth and remaining pulp. Viola! Aloe juice!
  • Recipe yields 12, 4 oz. bars of soap.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 lb. goat’s milk soap base
  • 60 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1/2 cup loose green tea leaves
  • 1/4 cup pure aloe juice
  • A silicone mold with 12 cavities, each cavity being 4 oz.

What you’ll do:

  • Cut each 1 lb. brick of soap base into 32 cubes
  • Add all cubes of soap base to an 8 cup, microwave-safe measuring cup
  • Microwave on high in 1 minute intervals, stirring in between, until melted through
  • Add the essential oil, tea leaves, and aloe juice, and mix thoroughly
  • Pour 4 oz. of the mixture into each cavity and allow to harden overnight

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Brussels Sprouts Ceasar Salad with Polenta Croutons and Pomegranate Seeds

This salad was inspired by a recent visit to Abe Fisher (which, by the way, was an incredible dining experience from start to finish). They prepared an out-of-this-world Brussels sprouts Ceasar salad. It was so good, in fact, that I felt compelled to create my very own version.

It’s an amazing twist on a classic, as well as the perfect salad for the holidays given its festive colors and highly-seasonal ingredients. The polenta croutons and pomegranate seeds add subtle sweetness to an otherwise savory dish. Further, the polenta croutons are a yummy, gluten-free alternative to traditional croutons.

Note: To make just enough dressing for this salad alone, use only one-third of the ingredients in the recipe provided. I, however, wanted leftovers!

Part 1: The Dressing

What you’ll need:

  • 1.5 cups EVOO
  • The juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 can white anchovies
  • 9 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Himalayan salt to taste
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor; blend until smooth
  • Funnel into a dressing bottle


Part 2: The Croutons

What you’ll need:

  • 1 log polenta
  • 2 tbsp. grape seed oil

What you’ll do:

  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • Cut the log of polenta into small cubes; place into a mixing bowl and coat with grape seed oil
  • Spread the cubes over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, ensuring that they don’t touch one another
  • Cook in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until crispy

Part 3: The Salad

What you’ll need:

  • 1 stalk of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup Ceasar dressing
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Polenta croutons
  • The seeds of half a pomegranate
  • Cracked black pepper

What you’ll do:

  • Remove the Brussels sprouts from the stalk; rinse thoroughly and pat dry
  • Cut each Brussels sprout in half lengthwise; then, out of each half, cut out and discard the portion holding the leaves together; the leaves should easily detach from one another; add to a salad bowl and repeat with each Brussels sprout until all are prepped
  • Combine the prepped Brussels sprouts, dressing, and Parmesan; top with pomegranate seeds and crotons; finish with desired amount of cracked black pepper

Sour Cream & Onion Root Vegetable Chips

Confession: I ate about half of the final product before I got around to photographing. Whoops!

More often than not, I turn my root vegetables into baked chips. There is something about the flavor and crunch that I absolutely love. It wasn’t until I was slicing the watermelon radishes from my most recent CSA share that I realized that I’d never blogged about one of my favorite treats. Well, given how gorgeous watermelon radishes are, I decided to photograph the process and the rest is history.

This recipe provides my take on sour cream and onion chips. Most recipes for sour cream and onion chips call for powdered milk, but I’m sorry – I just can’t get down with fake food. While my recipe forgoes the “sour cream” component, you’d never know the difference with the flavors of fresh dill, onion, and garlic taking center stage. Further, I prefer to bake my chips in lieu of frying them. The end result? A healthy, yet satisfying snack.

Note: While I used watermelon radishes this time around, I’ve also used Chioggia beets (another beaut) and parsnips. In other words, any root vegetable can be substituted for watermelon radishes and will yield the same, yummy result.

What you’ll need:

  • 3 large watermelon radishes
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grape seed oil
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. cracked black pepper

What you’ll do:

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F
  • Using a mandoline set to 1/8″ thickness, slice the radishes
  • Combine the grape seed oil, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, and cracked black pepper in a small bowl
  • Coat one side of each slice with the grape seed oil mixture and place the slices onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning each slice halfway through
  • Repeat the previous two steps for a total of three batches

Pacific Northwest Road Trip, Part 6: Seattle (WA)

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If you missed the intro post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Life has a way of kicking you in the butt when you need it the most. What am I talking about, you ask? Well, I was sitting on the couch, putting off writing the final post of this blog series for fear of saying goodbye to this adventure forever. I know I’m being dramatic, but me and Dan’s Pacific Northwest road trip was everything to us. Anyway, after procrastinating by making some root vegetable chips (recipe to come in the near future), I finally started to go through our Seattle photos. Naturally, the Travel Channel was in the background. Not five minutes into going through photos, Bizzare Food America comes on featuring none other than Seattle! So, that leads me to this post.

Day 11

Dan and I had a relatively short drive from Olympic National Park to Seattle. In fact, we got there just in time for check-in. Similar to how we were when we first arrived to Portland, we were ecstatic for a long, hot shower and a relaxing night in. We stayed at ACE Hotel, conveniently located downtown. We hung out, listened to some music, and went to bed early so that we would be recharged for the following day.

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Day 12

We enjoyed our hotel’s continental breakfast (those waffles!) and headed to Pioneer Square. I loved its Romanesque architecture, so I was grateful to have some time to take photos before we headed to the Underground Tour. For whatever reason – the grey skies, perhaps – I shot in B&W in Seattle more than I have elsewhere.

Anyway, back to the Underground Tour. This tour came highly recommended prior to our trip and for good reason. After the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, the city decided to simply build above the rubble rather than clear it out and start from scratch. As such, the original sidewalks and storefronts remain underground to this day. The tour guides not only take you to these areas, but also divulge Seattle’s intriguing history in the most comical way possible.

After our tour, we went to nearby Purple Café & Wine Bar for lunch. We loved it! The atmosphere, food, and incredible wine selection made us feel fancy after several days of roughin’ it. A few wine flights later, we walked over to the the impressive Seattle Public Library. If only for a brief visit, you’ll want to see its unique, award-winning architecture for yourself.

We ultimately ended our day by driving to Kerry Park, which has incredible views of the Seattle skyline, including the Seattle Great Wheel and the Space Needle. Obtaining a near-perfect, long-exposure shot proved to be tricky without a tripod, but we did it! Afterward, we headed back to our hotel, drank some wine, and called it a night.

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Day 13

Our day started with one of the most anticipated excursions of our trip, Pike Place Market! As someone who is passionate about fresh food and artisan goods, I was in heaven. While Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market is undoubtedly impressive, Pike Place Market puts it to shame; it encompasses several levels of stands, storefronts, and restaurants and spans a whopping nine acres.

We ate our way through the market and admired the beautiful displays of food, flowers, and handmade items. Every once in a while, we stopped to enjoy the talented musicians that played in various locations throughout the market. Of course, we had to at least lay eyes on the original Starbucks, located at 1st and Pike, as well as the infamous gum wall, located on Post Alley.

After exploring Pike Place Market for hours on end, we hopped in our vehicle and drove to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Between its overall artsy vibe and locally-owned boutiques, restaurants, and breweries, we loved Fremont. While we were there, we were sure to check out the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge. Later, we stopped by Fremont Brewing for a beer flight and ended up having an incredible Turkish dinner at Café Turko thanks to the advice of the guys at Fremont Brewing.

After an action-packed day involving way too many calories, we were pooped. We decided to head back to our room so that we would be ready to go for the last day of our trip. (Insert sad face here.)

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Day 14

Our last day in Seattle was a day of compromise for Dan and I. I wanted to go to the flagship Nordstrom (Dan, not so much) and Dan wanted to go to Gas Works Park (me, not so much). Dan was a trooper while I looked for a dress for an upcoming wedding, and I ended up having a lot of fun photographing Gas Works Park’s industrial structures.

After venturing to Gas Works Park, we headed back downtown to do some wandering. We stumbled upon the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, at which we were able to walk through its impressive gallery and watch professional glassblowers in action. It was fascinating! We were so happy to have stumbled upon this studio, as it was a free alternative to the pricier Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit next to the Space Needle.

Prior to heading to the airport, we each decided on the very last thing that we wanted to do while we were in Seattle. Naturally, they involved food and beverage. Dan wanted to go to iconic Top Pot Doughnuts, located Downtown, while I wanted to go to Outlander Brewery, located in Fremont. Dan happily devoured half of a dozen doughnuts, and I blissfully sipped on one last beer flight. Ironically enough, Outlander Brewery was the only brewery that wasn’t brought to my attention prior to our trip, yet it was by far my favorite brewery that we visited while in the Pacific Northwest. Both unique and tasty, its brews are top-notch. And, before we knew it, it was time to catch our flight back to Philadelphia.

Long story short, I’m beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to take such an unbelievable road trip with my better half, and I will forever cherish the memories that we made on our adventure. If you’ve taken the time to follow our journey via this blog series, thank you times a million!

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