Bake this Snickers Cake from Brown Eyed Baker. I can personally attest that this one is a HIT. It’s a lot of work, but your efforts will pay off. Even if you burn the turkey, your Thanksgiving guests will forget all about it when they taste this decadent treat. If you don’t like coffee in your desserts, don’t worry: you really can’t taste the coffee in this recipe, and it makes the cake super moist. (Buy coffee roasted in South Jersey: my favorite local coffee roaster is Harvest in Medford.)
If you want to make your dessert before the big day…
And finally, if you like to keep things super simple…
Put a toothpick in some fresh cranberries and dip them in some store-made caramel dip for an easy, delicious dessert. My almost-four-year-old will be making these while I’m making the macarons. We sampled them at Murphy’s Fresh Markets recently, and we both loved them.
What sweet recipes did I miss? Comment below with your favorite Thanksgiving desserts.
Whole Foods Marlton educated customers on all-things-cheese this Saturday.
Image by: (WT-fr) Regiondesaintjeansurrichelieu at French Wikivoyage [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Often applied to wine, the French word terroirrefers to the environmental factors – climate, soil quality, sunlight, and local wildlife – that can affect a food’s appearance or taste.
Ed Reynolds knows all about terroir. As a part-time Whole Foods employee, he has logged more than 4,500 hours of cheese experience. On Saturday, November 10 from 1 pm – 3 pm, he led a talk at Whole Foods’ Marlton, New Jersey location for their free Flavors of the Moment cheese tasting, an educational event that taught me a lot I didn’t know about cheese. Reynolds’ passion for all things cheese shone as he introduced the word terroir – as it relates to cheese – at the start of the tasting.
“What grows together, goes together,” he explained to our small group of eager cheese samplers. In general, when foods – like honey and cheese – are grown or produced in the same geographical area, they tend to complement one another. Before the presentation, Reynolds and the rest of the Whole Foods’ cheese team used the concept of terroir to pair several varieties of cheese with the accompaniments that complemented each.
The History of Cheddar
The tasting began with a sample of Keen’s Cheddar, a mild, unpasteurized cheese. Keen’s Cheddar is a “farmstead” product, a label given to cheese produced on the same farm where the cows are raised to make it. Producing farmstead cheese is a terroir practice that lends cheese unique properties depending on where it is made.
Reynolds and his team served the cheddar with a side of Cremenelli Tartufo Salami, an uncured Italian meat lightly dotted with black truffle. Beta-carotene lends Keen’s Cheddar its deep yellow color as a result of the cows’ grass-fed diet. While cheeses made from goat’s or sheep’s milk are often grass-fed, their cheeses do not produce as vibrant a color because goats and sheep do not secrete beta-carotene in the same way cows do.
Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England, where cheesemakers used caves to mature it. Since 1899, Keen’s has produced cheddar and the farm remains in the same family today. They are one of only three farms still producing raw-milk cheddar in Somerset. The taste was decidedly mild and distinct from the mass-produced varieties of cheap shredded cheddar I often toss into my family’s scrambled eggs and tacos.
Sweet Italian Cheese
Next, we sampled a pecorino-style Italian sheep’s milk cheese called Moliterno al Tartufo, a sweet, salty cheese that contains black truffle. For Reynolds, Moliterno al Tartufo recalls memories of growing up in Philadelphia eating salted pretzels with sweet ice cream.
We sampled the cheese with a drizzle of a raw Italian honey called Mitica Acacia, which Reynolds called “low-glycemic,” ideal for people who are watching their sugar intake. (I was unable to find an online source that verifies this claim.) Boasting a long shelf-life, this light-bodied honey rarely crystallizes. Mitica Acacia comes from an acacia tree, which is native to Bulgaria but also grows in Italy.
Steps to Cheese Tasting
As we sampled, Reynolds talked about the process of professional cheese tasting. Professional cheese tasters practice what is called ‘retronasal breathing,’ a practice that uses exhalation during the swallowing phase to aid the perception of aromas in the back of the throat.
Because professional tasters, such as competitive cheese judges, often sample hundreds of cheeses in a single weekend, they don’t always eat all of the cheese they judge. Instead, they use other senses – like smell – to judge the quality of the cheese.
Reynolds also discussed the importance of food temperature in relationship to taste. Few foods, he said, are meant to be eaten cold. The temperature of a cheese, for instance, can alter the cheese’s entire taste profile. Reynolds argues that most cheeses should be consumed at room temperature, a belief shared by many other experts – like the team at Serious Eats.
Sweet Partners: Jam and Cheddar
The Whole Foods team brought out Chandoka cheese from La Clare Farms Family Creamery in Wisconsin next. Like Keen’s, La Clare is a farmstead cheese producer, and they have been in business since 1978. Aged inside a cave, this cheddar cheese is mixed-milk, meaning it contains both cow’s and goat’s milk. The team paired it with a sweet jam called Bonnie’s Jams’ Bourbon Berry Jam, popular with Whole Foods customers.
Stilton: “Gateway to Bleu”
Next up was an English Stilton, a cheese that can only be produced in the British counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire. Candied pecans accompanied the Stilton. Reynolds called Stilton the “gateway to bleu cheese” because Whole Foods’ employees often suggest this mild, beginner cheese to customers who are new to the world of bleu.
Types of Rennet
Most cheeses are made using rennet, which is traditionally obtained as a byproduct of veal. Today, the vast majority of today’s cheese producers are moving away from animal-based rennet and instead using a genetically-engineered, vegetarian rennet grown in a lab. In fact, about up to 90% of the world’s cheeses are now made with lab-grown rennet, which Reynolds says is “100% identical” in chemical composition to its animal-based counterpart.
Dessert at Murphy’s Market
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the rest of Whole Foods’ informative presentation. But later that day, I took my son to Murphy’s Markets in Medford for their free Taste of the Seasons sampling event. (I like free samples, okay?)
We sampled Lars Swedish Ginger Snaps with Murphy’s pumpkin dip, which Murphy’s often has available for sampling throughout the season. The dip, which is made at Murphy’s, is a creamy, delicious blend of pumpkin puree, sugar, and cream cheese. I’m not usually a big pumpkin-spice gal – despite my love for all-things-fall – but this one had me reaching for more.
Murphy’s also had out a basket of their brownies to try (pictured above). This chewy, enticing brownie has become locally famous, and if the crumbs on the floor were any evidence of their popularity, I’d say a lot of people enjoyed them on Saturday.
My son’s favorite Murphy’s sample was the caramel cranberries – fresh cranberries dipped in gooey caramel, which would make for a delectable, light Thanksgiving appetizer or dessert. We also tried several of Murphy’s seafood spreads and dips with crackers, including their buffalo chicken dip.
My experience at Whole Foods and Murphy’s gave me a lot of ideas to think about for Thanksgiving dinner – cheese grazing boards, desserts made with locally-grown cranberries, imported Italian meats. I might think twice next time I reach for the cheap shredded cheddar at Wal-Mart.
But I think even processed cheese has its rightful place, and no one was complaining this weekend when I used Target cheese on my homemade empanadas. If you ever make empanadas, be sure to use this dough recipe from Laylita’s Recipes. I used frozen butter, and the result was a flakey, buttery crust. I stuffed mine with shredded chicken, canned corn, canned tomatoes, and Mexican spices (chipotle, smoked paprika, salt, and chili powder).
Everyone from the New York Times to the Food Network has raved about the homemade sweets at Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn Cafe on Route 206 in Hammonton. The quaint, family-owned shop is housed in a red barn where you’ll feel more like you’ve stepped into your grandmother’s kitchen than a restaurant.
Penza’s is open seven days a week from eight am to six pm for pies and flowers, but they only serve breakfast and lunch between eight am and two pm. When I was a kid, my family and I rode our bikes through Waterford and Hammonton to have breakfast at Penza’s a couple times, but I was too young to remember much of those trips. This past Sunday, my husband, son, and I headed to the Red Barn for a late lunch.
Set amidst forest and farmland, the shop’s old-fashioned windmill and floral displays invite drivers to stop and savor the scenery. Outside the shop sits a greenhouse. A wooden sign advertises apple cherry pie, and the colorful mums remind you that fall is, indeed, finally here. When we entered Penza’s, we saw two dining sections: an “outdoors” area in the enclosed porch, and an indoor area in the bake shop. Since the weather was chilly, we sat in the indoor section.
The shop is worth visiting for its charming rustic decor alone, both inside and outside the cafe. Even the pies on display lend an artistic touch to the setting. Old black-and-white photographs of the farm and newspaper clippings highlighting the cafe’s media coverage over the years adorn the walls. Wooden bookcases, cloth placemats, and a tiny kitchen where you can hear the waitress delivering your order to the cook create a cozy, down-home ambiance.
Farmhouse decor lend the indoor dining area a cozy ambiance.
The “outdoor” dining area is located inside an enclosed porch in the Red Barn.
Like many families in Hammonton, owner Evelyn Penza is Italian, the descendant of a farmer who immigrated here from Sicily in the early twentieth-century. In the 1970’s, Penza and her husband began to experiment with turning the old barn into a business. By the mid-1980’s, Penza and her two sons opened Red Barn. Today, Penza owns and operates the entire operation – including the cafe and pie shop.
Still, her family helps with the shop when they can. “Although the boys have their own businesses, they are an enormous asset and help,” Penza says of her sons.
As we waited for our menus, several families came into the bake shop from out-of-town and gushed over the shop’s eye-catching pies. Behind the counter, Penza sold the pies along with instructions on how to “care for” them at home. She also sold pepperoni bread and other savory baked goods. When Penza asked one man what he wanted, he admitted he was unsure because everything looked so appealing.
The cafe’s autumn menu lists just a few items available for breakfast and lunch, including eggs, quiche, omelets, pancakes, hamburgers, soup, and grilled cheese. The cafe doesn’t have a kids’ menu, but our three-year-old gobbled down an order of peach pancakes served with a side of cranberry-apple sauce. My husband ordered grilled cheese and chicken soup, and I ate a cheeseburger with chips and salad. Our waitress informed us that the cafe is cash-only. As people who rarely carry cash, we were relieved to learn they an ATM.
Fresh dill flavored my salad as well as my husband’s soup. We both enjoyed the taste and appreciate fresh herbs in our food, and our meals were definitely homemade. I expected my salad to be the standard, uninspired iceberg-lettuce with bottled Italian dressing that a lot of diners serve as a side. I was wrong. My salad was a refreshing mix of fresh cucumbers, peppers, onions, and plenty of seasoning. We ate every bite, and since we figured our son had ingested enough sugar that day between leftover Halloween candy and pancakes, we declined a dessert course.
Penza’s is nestled in rural farmland, just minutes from historic Batsto Village. Batsto features numerous hiking trails, a mansion, a sawmill, a museum, a lake, and a nature center. They also host educational events throughout the year. In the fall, Batsto bustles with activity as photographers snap photos of babies discovering Batsto’s orange and yellow landscape. Throughout the season, couples beam for engagement photos beside a dam where iced-tea-brown cedar water flows beneath a wooden footbridge.
Having savored our lunches at Penza’s, we embarked on a hike at Batsto. My son learned about the Pinelands’ native wildlife and a bit about what life was like for the original inhabitants who lived in Batsto beginning in 1766. The nature center even offered some information on the legend and lore of the Jersey Devil. After seeing the mock Jersey Devil “replica” inside the nature center, we had to remind our son a few times that the Jersey Devil isn’t real (although many locals would disagree).
Our pace slowed as we walked back to our car and watched the sun set behind the Batsto mansion. Daylight savings time ended that weekend, and our bodies hadn’t adjusted yet. What a difference an hour can make on your circadian rhythm.
“Why we don’t come here very often?” my son – who woke up at 5:30 am that morning – inquired. (He’s definitely in the why stage of child development.)
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we’ll start coming more often, though. Would you like to come more often?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“That sounds good to me,” I said as we drove away.