Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars
Photo: BHG.com
I've got two words for you: pumpkin porn. I mean, just look at the photo to the right. Can't you just imagine taking a sinful bite of one of those pumpkin chocolate cheesecake bars? They smell like autumn, look like they have a prominent place on TasteSpotting, and taste like heaven.

Heaven, then, must be located in the Test Kitchen of Better Homes and Gardens, where this incredible recipe came from. And a part of the magazine's "41 Pumpkin Recipes" feature, there's 40 more where this came from. Think pumpkin praline muffins, holiday pumpkin soup, spiced pumpkin butter and pumpkin latte coffee cake. It's really the whole enchilada... assuming said enchilada is filled with roasted pumpkin and topped with cumin pepitas.

I simply couldn't resist sharing and hopefully, neither can you. Enjoy.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars
Recipe adapted from BHG.com
Makes: 24 to 36 servings
Yield: 24 to 36 bars
Timing: Prep 25 mins | Bake 325°F 55 mins | Cool 30 mins | Chill 3 hrs

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut up, or 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Grated fresh nutmeg
  • Milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate curls
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in the 1/3 cup melted butter. Press mixture evenly into bottom of the prepared baking pan; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and the 1-3/4 cups sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, and salt on low speed just until combined. Remove 1-1/4 cups of the mixture.

3. In a small heavy saucepan, combine the 6 ounces chocolate and the 2 tablespoons butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Whisk chocolate mixture into the 1-1/4 cups pumpkin mixture. Pour over crust, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes.

4. Carefully pour the remaining pumpkin mixture over baked chocolate layer, spreading evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes more or until filling is puffed and center is set. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

5. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and 1/4 cup sugar. Gently spread over cookies. Cool completely. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours. Cut into bars. Before serving, sprinkle with nutmeg and/or chocolate curls.

Storing leftovers: Place in a single layer in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Do not freeze.


Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Apple Sauce and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Apple Sauce
and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

Photo: Food Network
Some people wait all year long for summer BBQs, hearty winter stews or spring salads. Not me. I’ve been waiting the last 10 months for a certain portly squash to make its annual reappearance: the pumpkin. It’s called “The Great Pumpkin” for a reason; just ask Charlie Brown.

While pumpkin can be polarizing, it’s also perhaps the most versatile recipe ingredient around. Pumpkin is a flawless fit in dishes both savory and sweet, handles high roasting temps like a champ, and turns any soup silky smooth.

But if you want one can’t-miss pumpkin recipe this season, this is it: Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise. Imagine this: Hunks of moist pumpkin bread baked in a rich pumpkin custard, drizzled with a spicy caramel apple sauce and sitting atop a pool of vanilla bean creme anglaise. It’s pure heaven for any pumpkin lover and just might convert anyone who’s not.

Helpful hint: If you’ve got the time, make this recipe the night before you need to serve it. It’s got a lot of components so you don’t want to feel rushed; but more importantly, the flavors really come together overnight.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Apple Sauce and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup pure canned pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • Pumpkin Bread, toasted and cubed, recipe follows
  • Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, recipe follows
  • Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce, recipe follows
  • Freshly whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk together the yolks, sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.

Scatter the pumpkin bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.

Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Spoon some of the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise into a shallow bowl, top with some of the bread pudding and drizzle with the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce. Top with freshly whipped cream. Bread pudding is best served warm.

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces (scant 1 cup) canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar, and oil at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times.

Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and water and mix until just combined.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely.

Once the bread is cool, slice in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread the cubes on a large baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven until lightly toasted, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup pure cane sugar

Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until at the pale ribbon stage. Slowly whisk in the hot half-and-half. Return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Strain into a bowl and set over an ice bath. Stir until chilled. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 star anise
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon apple schnapps

Combine the cream, apple juice, star anise, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a clean, small saucepan and place back over low heat while you make the caramel.

Combine the sugar, water and vinegar in a medium saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring, until it’s a deep amber color, about 8 minutes.
Slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture a little at a time, and continue whisking until smooth. Add the apple schnapps and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.

The sauce can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat before serving.


Gluttony at 40,000ft: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Experience

Virgin's In-Flight Walk-Up Bar 
A few months ago I had the incredible pleasure of taking a business trip to London. It was a trip of "firsts:" the first time I had been in a city during the Olympic Games, the first time I'd been working for a UK-based company, and the first time I had the privilege of flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. Sure, there are lie-flat seats, free pajamas and a full, backlit bar complete with bartender and barstools, but more importantly there was great food both in-flight and post-flight at Virgin's Upper Class Lounge. Check it out below.

Boarding the Upper Deck, the first thing you hit is the walk-up bar, where a bartender is pouring pre-flight glasses of champagne and Mimosas. I opted out and went to my seat to settle in. Sadly, I had intentions of heading back to the bar but never made it. Maybe next time. Regardless it was a total #InFlightFAIL.

Upper Class Menu
Once I got to my seat, the first thing I noticed was the menu. It was huge. After nearly a decade of business travel on American Airlines, on whose planes you're lucky if you get a seat that stays put (let alone an edible meal), I was just floored to see the passion and creativity that Virgin Atlantic had put into the menu. As a professional strategic planner by day and personal dinner party "thrower" (technical term?) by night, I was even more excited to see how integrated the whole experience was. Heading to London? Why not have an afternoon tea service complete with miniature cake stands for each guest? For the night owls, it makes perfect sense to offer a full dining experience but about passengers who sleep through dinner? That's where the "Graze" menu comes in, offering off-hour guests mini beef burgers, a "Coronation" chicken salad, and vegetarian sushi selection. Pure genius and truly consumer-centric, something that Virgin clearly prioritizes. But enough geeking out at the experiential marketing; let's get back to the food.

Amuse Bouche: Pesto Puree with Breadsticks

Sit down at your seat and you better hope you're hungry. Granted, service is spread out over about 8 hours, but there's a lot of pomp and circumstance before you even take your first bite. Flight attendants first need to set your table by pulling a hidden slot out of your cubby's wall, sliding it over your lap and adorning it with a cloth placemat, flatware, silver salt and pepper shakers, and cloth napkin. Need to get up during the amuse bouche, appetizer, dinner or dessert service? No problem. Just slide your table down towards your feet and you've got plenty of room to stand up. Very ergonomically correct, if I may say so.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup
Thai Chicken Curry

Once you're all set up, Virgin's service seemingly goes on forever. First, there's an amuse bouche -- ours was a pesto puree with breadsticks (above) -- followed by your choice of Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup (left) or Smoked Salmon for starters.

Need a cocktail with your food? Choose from a full bar of high-end liquors and spirits. then a main course selection of Grilled Filet of Beef, Thai Chicken Curry or English Pea and Mint Tortellini with assorted breads. Our flight had Rosemary Focaccia and Pumpernickel. One of each, please.

Don't forget wine pairings! Flight attendants come around with a four-pack wine carrier, offering up varietals like a Spanish Rioja, Italian Barbera, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Argentinian Malbec. How did I choose? Well, the last time I flew to London it was en route to Italy with Bryan, so I opted for the Italian varietal. Maybe it was the in-cabin pressure but it was delightful.

My Barbera was perfect with dessert, a warm chocolate and salted caramel pudding. It was eithe that or an apricot raspberry almond tart with creme anglaise.

About 30 minutes after dessert you start to think everything's calming down and you can turn in for a six-hour snooze, but the flight attendant's haven't had the last laugh. They literally roll through the cabin with a wine, cheese and Port cart. No joke. It's hard to stomach (pun intended) the thought of more food at that point, but I decided to take one for the team. I could only imagine Bryan's disappointment to hear I passed up cheese and Port at 40,000 feet. I couldn't let him down. Yup. That's my rationale and I'm sticking to it.

Finally, it's time for bed. Your flight attendant makes that for you, too. There's a full-on mattress pad, sheet, fluffy duvet and pillow. You can adjust your personal TV screen to sit right in front of your face, providing in-flight entertainment until you lull yourself into dreamland. Better yet, if you wake up to use the restroom, your return to find your "bed" has been remade. I was a little surprised they didn't  offer to tuck each passenger in.

When it's time to wake up, at least on the way back to LA, it's mid-day. That means no breakfast at 2pm. So what does Virgin Atlantic dream up instead? A full afternoon tea service. Flight attendants bring a cart to each passenger's pod and offer fresh tea as well as a overflowing selection of tea sandwiches and pastries. Better yet, the attendant arranges said goodies on individual tiered cake stands for each passenger. Our flight's sandwiches included ham and chutney, tuna and sweet corn, and cucumber with dill mayonnaise. A warm sultana scone came with refreshing clotted cream and strawberry jam while the "cake stand" included miniature chocolate eclairs, black currant and almond sponge cake as well as a selection of macarons. It was heavenly; in-flight gluttony at its best. Shortly after your afternoon tea service, your flight lands and you're wheeled off the plane about 20 pounds heavier. Not true, but I can say I was especially grateful for a long walk through Heathrow Airport to customs.

Traditional English Breakfast at Heathrow's VA Upper Class Lounge
That's all the in-flight experience but there's one more perk: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow. If you ever find yourself with a ticket to this lounge, get there early. Like five hours early. Not because there are lines but because you're never going to want to leave. Better yet, call ahead and book a massage, a facial or a body wrap. Men can relax and refresh in the barber shop; other guests either lingered over cocktails at one of two glowing bars or collapsed onto huge personal leather sectionals, each offering a pair of Bose headphones to listen to music or watch a 20' TV. I couldn't leave London without trying a traditional English breakfast, so I perused the menu found at everyone's seat and gave my order to a passing waiter. The same waiter who was offering every guest champagne and Bellinis. Once you're settled, you don't have to move. I nearly fell asleep and missed my flight to LA, but I knew better. Eleven more hours of gluttony was about to begin.


How To Make An Amazing Chinese Chicken Salad

World's Best Chinese Chicken Salad? 
Photo: LA Times
I have a a love-hate relationship with Chinese Chicken Salad. When it's done right, it's incredible: You can't beat refreshing, crisp iceberg lettuce, juicy slices of chicken breast, the subtle crunch of delicately fried rice noodles, crushed bit of peanuts, and a hint of umami from an equally-balanced soy and ginger dressing. It's savory and satisfying, especially on a hot day with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. However, Chinese Chicken Salad gone wrong is unbearable. Suffice to say sickly-sweet dressing and limp lettuce leaves do not a fabulous salad make.

Chi Dynasty in Studio City might make the world's best Chinese Chicken Salad, meeting all of the aforementioned requirements and better yet, ready from start-to-finish in under an hour. They recently shared their recipe with the LA Times and I've included it below for your salad-eating pleasure. Enjoy!

  • 8 cups chopped iceberg lettuce

  • 3 cups crispy rice noodles

  • 1 pound boiled chicken breast, cut into strips

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped peanuts, more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons minced preserved ginger, more to taste

  • 1 tablespoon roasted black sesame seeds, more to taste

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions, more to taste

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, more to taste


  • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons sesame oil

  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Make the Dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and ginger. Taste and adjust seasoning and flavoring as desired. This makes a generous one-half cup of dressing.

 Set aside.

Assemble the Salad: In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, noodles, chicken, peanuts, ginger, sesame seeds, green onions and cilantro leaves. Add half the dressing, tossing to lightly coat. Taste, and toss in additional dressing as desired. Serve immediately.


Wedding Favors: S'mores Snack Packs

My super-creative mother-in-law, Nancy, made these incredible little s'mores packages and I just had to share. Not only did she make them but she took this fabulous photo as well (someone's getting pretty darned good at food photography)! The occasion? A weekend in Truckee, CA (a stone's throw north of Lake Tahoe) to celebrate the wedding of her childhood-best-friend's-son. The wedding was absolutely incredible but these s'mores were the veritable icing on the cake during a welcome BBQ hosted by the bride and groom. Nancy filled each decadent mini package with graham crackers, Hershey's chocolate and jumbo jet-puffed marshmallows, tied them with rafia bows and personalized them with perhaps the cutest message ever: "Sending you s'more love." At the end of the BBQ, the bride-to-be carried a large rustic basket heaping with the s'mores around to each of the guests, who just happened to be gathered around fire pits. Coincidence? I think not. :)

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