Toffee Pumpkin Gingernut Cheesecake

So you know how when it’s late and you’ve got four readings to do for a presentation in front of about 12 people the next morning which you’ve not started, you decide to make a cheesecake? Yep, I do that too. In fact, believe it or not, that’s the very thing I did last night. Small world, isn’t it?

I’d never made cheesecake before, but how hard could it be? Recipe looked simple enough.

This was proof that simple instructions doth not a simple task make. Yes I made the olde-sounding quote up. I thought it sounded good.

So…. CHEESECAKE :D


That which you see above is, as the title of this entry suggests, (deep breath) Toffee Pumpkin Gingernut Cheesecake. Even just one of those words before “cheesecake” would make me drool, the thought of this made my brain explode.

That being said, I first came across the recipe that this is based on way back in 2008. In fact, it was the first post on a food blog that I ever read. I mentioned this to my mother when I rang her up to gloat that I had cheesecake, shocked and amazed that it was three years ago that I started reading food blogs, when it seems like yesterday. I asked her could she believe that I’d wasted three years of my life on the internet (wasted as in, they’ve flown by and I’ve not actually done anything productive >_>’), and she just sighed and said, “Yes Anna, I can.” And then was jealous about the cheesecake.

The original version of this cheesecake is the Pioneer Woman’s Caramel Pumpkin Gingersnap cheesecake, which can be found HERE. Mine differs in that the shop only had toffee sauce, and the ginger biscuits I bought were gingernuts, not gingersnaps (I know, it makes sooo much of a difference).

Anyway, the recipe for this cheesecake asks for pumpkin purée, which from what I’ve heard is pretty easy to get in America. I’ve never seen it here, and I did look for it – you only really hear of people using pumpkins around Halloween though, and usually to carve. That’s the only time of year I get to eat pumpkin pie normally, and before this year (I’m going orange-coloured vegetable mad at the moment) I’d never eaten pumpkin in any other way. So obviously, because I had a heck of a lot of work and it was getting to late afternoon, I decide to go and buy a pumpkin and make the purée myself.

The instructions I discovered after browsing several websites seemed very simple. Wash the pumpkin, de-seed it, chop it up, roast it for 30 mins, blend it, sieve it. Easy.

Ha, ha, ha, Anna you were so naive.

To start with, the instructions told me that once the pumpkin was roasted, it would be really easy to scoop it out of the skin. Wrong. Because it’d been steamed (they said to put some water in the base of the roasting tray), the skin was soft, and gah it took me ages. I think I probably should have roasted it for longer, but they said 30 mins was all that was needed, and I was on a very tight schedule. We have a mini-blender, it’s height comes to just above half way the length of my hand. After I managed to skin the pumpkin and chop it up, I then spent absolutely ages trying to get it all blended. We really, really need a normal sized one. Then sieving… well it took me a lot less time than my soup did the other week, but still… the instructions told me this was a very easy non-time consuming task! Lies.

I have no pictures of any of the stages of the recipe since I was feeling a bit frazzled and was too covered in pumpkin to trust myself to pick up the camera, so here’s another picture of the finished product.

Doesn’t it look lovely?

The actual cheesecake-making wasn’t too bad at all. In fact, it went really well. To start with I had to make the base (and because of the shape of the dish, mostly the sides). This was done by crushing up just under 400g of gingersnaps – just under because my flatmates stole a few before hand), and 100g of pecans. Mix them together with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, and a dash of salt. Then melt about 100g butter in the microwave and add that to the mixture. Stir (or use your hands, so much fun) until it’s all combined and just starting to stick together, then pour into your bowl. The Pioneer Woman’s recipe calls for a 10-inch springform tin, but I didn’t have one of them, I had a pyrex casserole dish. So use what ever you think the cheesecake will go well in. Press the mixture into the base and up the sides, until you’ve got a fairly level covering of gingernsnap crumbs. Mmm I can still taste it now.

Place the bowl/tin with the base into the fridge for 30 mins whilst you do the next bit.

There’s cheese. Lots of cheese. Soft, cream cheese. Mmm.

So now we need four 8oz packets of cream cheese. If you live in the UK, that’s 3 and 2/5ths packets of 250g cream cheese. That was the standard size packet I found. Put all of this into a large mixing bowl, and 1.5 cups of sugar (that’s up to 360ml in a measuring jug if you, like I did last year, have no idea how much a cup is). Now beat :D. The original recipe says to use an electric mixer, but I found that after leaving the cheese out of the fridge for a bit, it was fairly easy to beat by hand.  Beat until light and fluffy. If you want to steal a spoonful, it’s gooood.

Next add 360ml of your homemade pumpkin purée. The original recipe says that if you’re using shop bought, you only need a cup – maybe it’s more concentrated? Then I added 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and a generous 1/2 teaspoon of mixed spices. Original recipe doesn’t use so much cinnamon and no mixed spices, but it uses allspice, which I couldn’t get hold of. Mix some more. Then add in four large eggs, one at a time.

So add egg, mix. Add egg, mix. Repeat.

Add in 100ml double cream (or 2 tbsp if you want to be more healthy. I had cream to use), mix until it’s just combined, and take the crust out of the fridge. Grab your toffee icecream sauce (icecream sauce because it’s soft and didn’t cause the crust to go rock-solid) and cover the base in it. I tried to get some to go up the sides, but it didn’t really work – just caused some of the crumbs to fall down and it all slid back onto the base anyway. Chop/crush another 100g pecans and sprinkle these onto the toffee, then grab your bowl full of filling and pour. Into the bowl, obviously. I hope you didn’t just do it straight onto the table. That’d be silly.

I had too much for my casserole dish, so I poured the remainder into a pyrex bowl and baked it along side the cheesecake. But I forgot that you don’t need to cook smaller things for as long, so it overbaked and seperated :(.

Place the cheesecake into a pre-heated 350F / 175C oven (I have a fan oven, so I had it at 160C), for one hour and fifteen minutes. If you’re going to do this exactly how I do, put it in at 11:15 pm when you’re already tired. That’s fun.

Once it’s cooked, it should be slightly wobbly, but not liquidy. Take it out and let it cool for 30 mins. I really wanted bed by this point, so I didn’t let it cool for 30 mins. I let it cool for 15. The next step is to cover the top in more toffee sauce. If you let it cool properly, I imagine that the toffee sauce would stay on the top. I put it on whilst the cheesecake was still fairly hot, and left it overnight, so all my toffee soaked into the cheesecake. Which was fine with me. Finally, put it in the fridge and let it cool properly. You have yourself a cheesecake!

Now look. Appearance doesn’t always matter. That which you see above is not a perfect slice of cheesecake. At least, it doesn’t look like one. Because mine was cooked in a pyrex bowl, it’s had to stay in the bowl – I can’t get it all out in one piece. So I’m partly-cutting and partly-scooping out portions, hence the mess it looks. The thing I really wanted to point out though is the colour. Mine’s not orange. The Pioneer Woman’s is.

I think this is purely down to the pumpkin purée. Jarred purée seems to be more intense in colour, and I also think it possible has to do with the type of pumpkin used. When mine roasted, it went white (although the water in the pan was darker, so some of the colour may have come out then?). It still tasted like pumpkin, it’s just not orange. It’s still delicious.

It makes enough for about 12 people, and only two of us in the flat are eating it. I’m going to hate cheesecake by the end of this week. But it’s sooo good. Trust me. Don’t trust me? Make some yourself. Just not when you’ve got a presentation due in the next morning.

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General thoughts on healthy living

Why have I decided to suddenly write a blog post about healthy living?

Well there’s several possible reasons. The first could be that I’ve read two books over the last few months that have inspired me to exercise more (not that I have yet, but they’ve made me want to). Then there’s the fact that I’ve gained a fair bit of weight since I came home for the summer holidays, due to lack of exercise (apart from three weeks abroad during which I swam most days) and larger portion sizes/ more meals in general. Finally is the fact that I go back to London properly on Monday, so need to start organising my life for the next term.

I’m overweight. That’s a fact. I’m not fat, just large enough for one of my nicknames to be “Tubs” (I let my closest friends get away with a lot). But yes, I’m not overweight to the point that if I toned up a little and not lost weight, I’d still look awful – if I toned up a little, I’d look fine. I do look fine. I’m just slightly heavier than I should be. When I was 13/14 though, I wasn’t overweight – I was perfectly normal, and I looked a heck of a lot slimmer than I do now. I remember watching my face change shape on holiday in France when my family ate cheese and baguette every day for lunch. It’s no wonder I gained weight. But because I’ve watched myself gain several stone in the last few years, I would like to lose some again. Not a lot necessarily – I’d be happy with losing just one.

So my thoughts turn to healthy living. Not to “dieting”. Having studied biology, biological anthropology and (most importantly) posessing a fair amount of common sense, I know two things: 1) Most diets are fads that don’t work in the long run, and 2) I could never stick to them. Starving yourself (or only allowing to eat cabbage soup or something equally as stupid) is just dumb. You’ll lose weight, certainly. But as soon as you start eating normally again, you’re going to put it all back on. Almost all diets that you hear about in the media are not sustainable, although some may allow you to lose a bit initially. And I do not want to be one of those women who’ve been on a diet for most of their lives by the time they’re fifty. There are only several fad diets that I wouldn’t mind trying as one-off curiosity things, and they include the raw food diet and the juice diet (I think that’s the one I’m thinking of), and that’s purely because I know they both contain a fair number of nutrients, and my diet could definitely do with throwing a few more vitamins in.

Whilst I’m not wanting to starve myself, I do want to think about my food intake. I’m going to be completely in charge of what goes into my body, so I should be careful-ish of that. Ish because that doesn’t mean I’m never going to let myself eat something fatty or sugary every now and then.

My diet last year was lazy. Pasta was eaten a lot, and out of my pasta meals, pesto was the most common accompaniment. Every now and then I did eat some fruit, but not a great deal. Neither did I eat a great amount of vegetables – we couldn’t work out how to turn the temperature down in our fridge, so they’d go off fairly quickly. I also ate quite a few ready meals, and that means a fair number of curries. This distresses me a little, because I know how many calories are in one readymeal curry. You don’t need to be calorie counting to know that taking in over half your recommended daily allowance in one meal isn’t the best idea.

So I’ve been thinking of what I should do for food this year. First of all, I want to be less lazy. I’m actually going to make pots of food that I can then freeze and save for another day, rather than sticking to making fast one-person meals. I want to increase my fruit and veg consumption, take advantage of the fact that there’s a grocery shop opposite me which has lots of different fruit and veg on display outside (and sells the most amazing nectarines). Having looked through various healthy living websites, I feel that I should at least try to do the following: 1. Stay hydrated – I drink a lot of caffeine (mainly tea). I should try to drink more water, fruit juice, green/herb teas etc. 2. Eat a variety of nuts and seeds, which contain oils and vitamins that I don’t often get. 3. Eat more pulses – beans, lentils etc.

This leads me to think… should I try being vegetarian next term? Part of me says yes, but the other part of me reminds me that I do actually love meat, and my flatmates and I were thinking of doing a roast dinner as soon as we’re all settled into the flat properly. So maybe I should try to be mostly-vegetarian. After all, I don’t have a problem with eating animals. If we weren’t meant to eat meat, we wouldn’t be able to. We wouldn’t have the teeth, and we wouldn’t be able to digest it. Yes, we can digest non-animal products better, but some studies suggest that we wouldn’t have evolved the way we have (with our large brains and intelligence especially) had we not eaten meat. So yeah, we’re animals. Plenty of animals eat other animals. I don’t see it being a moral issue to eat meat (ignore the arguement that farming meat uses too many resources, I can understand that – I mean moral issue as in “oh it’s so cruel to the poor fluffy bunny”).

And when I’m feeling less motivated to eat well, I should just nip into Planet Organic – that shop always makes me wish I could afford to shop there and eat very healthily. Only let myself buy drinks and snacks there as a treat.

The final part of my healthy living ramble (and it is rambling, I’m so sorry about that), is exercise. This is something that I’ve managed to avoid for a large portion of my life. Things did turn around a bit last year – I bought a gym membership and used it quite a bit in my third term, and I also did a heck of a lot of walking. But the gym was on the street behind me, and whilst there’s a gym on the same street as my new flat, the price is astronomical. I’m not becomming a member. I do want to do exercise this year though (need to, not just want to), so I’m thinking of buying a set of weights and starting running. I’m not a runner, and I’m not a weight lifter at all. But those two books I mentioned earlier? Well one was “Born to Run”, which has made me really want to try, and the other was “Smart Girls Do Dumbbells”, which made starting weights sound easy enough, and I have no upper body strength at all so it would be good to develop. The two together, if I actually start them and keep them going, will be a lot cheaper than a gym membership and should still be enough to keep me healthier.

And there we go. My “general thoughts on healthy living” turned into a ramble, and was a lot longer than I thought it would be. We’ll see if I actually stick to anything.

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Considering I have practically nothing in the fridge at the moment…

I’m quite happy with what I’ve been able to eat over the last week or so. My student loan for this term ran out a week ago, so I decided that obviously the thing I could stop buying should be food. (Obviously. *rolls eyes*) This was partly due to the fact I finish for the term at the end of next week, and partly due to the fact that I know I have items in the cupboards that I would never dream of using whilst there was immediatley accessible items in the fridge.

For example, if I were to have pasta, on a regular basis I’d be eating pasta and pesto. It’s quick, and it’s easy. I don’t have to think about it. I just cook some pasta, and add a spoonful of pesto. I like it. I’ll eat it for several meals in a row if I have to. But of course, my pesto has ran out. So I go for my pasta back-up; tomato, mixed dried herbs and onion. Only I have no onions or tomato. At last I remember that I have tinned tuna, but alas… no mayonnaise! What was I to do? In the end I tried something simple that I’d never made before; pasta, olive oil, tinned tuna, and lemon juice. And you know what? It was really, really nice. I’ll be having it again.

The point here is that had I not banned myself from buying my regular fridge items, I’d have never thought to venture more into my storecupboard items. The lemon juice hadn’t been used in ages.

In a similar fashion, there were two other meals I’ve had in the last week that I’ve really enjoyed, made out of items in my cupboard. The first was an experiment on bean burgers, which I have never read a recipe for. I had a tin of red kidney beans in the cupboard, and a third of a tin of leftover baked beans in the fridge. I combined these with a small chopped onion, salt, pepper, flour, egg, and either chili flakes or cayenne pepper (can’t quite remember which, think it was probably the cayenne though). Spooned it into a frying pan, browned on both sides, et voila. It was really tasty. I will have to try making it again next term so I can work out quantities needed. Only quarm with the name “bean burger” – it wasn’t burger shaped.

Finally, the other night I had my own version of tinned saussage and beans – NOT tinned saussage and beans.

To start with, I fried three saussages in a very small amount of oil (two to go in this, and one to put in the fridge for the next day). Whilst they were frying (I know, I know, it’s unhealthy. But I don’t trust the grills at university, and I didn’t want to wait an hour for them to cook in the oven), I heated the haricot beans (tinned in water) in a pan along with a birds eye chili, chopped finely, with only half of the seeds included. When the saussages were cooked, I removed them from the pan and placed to one side. After draining the beans, I placed them in the frying pan to coat in the sausage oil, getting any flavour that might be there. I also added ground cumin, and quite a bit of tomato purée (the thick stuff in the tube). I then sliced the saussages into little pieces, and added them to the bean mix, stirring it all until it was thoroughly mixed.

The only thing I would try to improve next time is the dryness of the beans – when they were drained, all the liquid left. So the only ‘wetness’ there was came from the oil and the fairly dry tomato purée.

So those were my memorable meals from my storecupboard adventure. Unfortunatly, I did have to venture out to the supermarket yesterday to stock up on a little fresh food, mainly vegetables and milk, but it did mean more ingredients to play with for dinner. Tonight’s plan? Rice with trout and onions done in sesame oil. Will it taste good? I have no idea. But I had a trout sandwich last night, and as much as I LOVE fresh fish sandwiches, the small amount of bread I have has to last me a week.

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All things must start somewhere

I’m never entirely sure what to write in the opening post for a blog. Do I start by introducing myself? Or do I pretend that we’ve known each other forever and just get straight into normal entries? If I introduce myself, how detailed should it be? Should I list my plans, my goals, my life history? Maybe I could mention the blogs I’ve started in the past? I think I’ll introduce myself, but I’m going to keep this brief, so I can move quickly on to everything else.

I’m female, 19, living in London to study anthropology. Originally from Liverpool. Don’t know what I want to do with my life. Love food, music and stories. Change my mind easily. Get too distracted by the internet. Amazing procrastinator.

I’m going to say that this blog is about life, so can encompass anything and everything that I find interesting. In all likelihood, there’ll be a fair number of recipe or food related posts. You’re reading this? Post a comment saying “hi”.

And now I’m going to get on with the actual blog.

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