Friday, December 1, 2017

Anna Sultana’s Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, December's Full Cold Moon and the Geminid Meteor Showers

Christmas will be here in three weeks!!
That’s right… 
We’ve got about three weeks to get EVERYTHING done.

The main thing is, don’t panic.
You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again. I believe in you.
Take a deep breath, make a list, and do your magic.

While you’re writing that list, take a minute and enjoy a slice or two of cheesecake.
Ah, Cheesecake! 
Is there any problem that can happen to any woman, at any age, that can’t be helped by a slice of cheesecake.


If you have a pumpkin sitting in the kitchen, why not make some pumpkin purée? 
It’s easy. Really. 
Cut up the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Don’t forget to save them for roasting. 
Preheat oven to 375° F
Place the pumpkin pieces on a large baking pan, and cover them with foil or a lid. 
Bake for one hour or until very tender. 
Remove the pan from the oven, and set aside to cool. 
Scrape the cooked pumpkin’s interior off of the rind and into a food processor and purée until smooth. Just compost or toss the rind.

For a bit of variety you could make a pecan crumb crust: 
1 1/4 Cups crushed gingersnap cookies or graham wafer crumbs
1/4 Cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 Cup margarine or butter, melted

Check cheesecake doneness by gently shaking the pan. 
If the cheesecake is done, it will be set except in the centre that will be soft. 
Do not insert a knife into the centre - that could make the cheesecake crack during cooling. Still edible but not as pretty.

Want to make the cheesecake in a 9x13-inch pan to serve as small dainties?
No problem.
Line the pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. 
Prepare the cheesecake batters, then spoon into the prepared pan and swirl. 
Bake in a 350° F oven 35 minutes or until centre is almost set. 
Cool completely. Refrigerate 4 hours. 
Use foil handles to lift cheesecake from pan before cutting to serve.

Have a bit of pumpkin purée left over?
Consider yourself lucky.
Pumpkin is a popular ingredient in Maltese cooking, especially in vegetable soups.
Pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie are also great any time.
As are other cheesecake recipes.

                        Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake 

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter a 9 inch springform pan.
Wrap the exterior of the pan in a double thickness of aluminum foil.

The Crust

Preheat the oven to 325º F

Combine in a small bowl
1 1/4 Cups graham wafer crumbs
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup margarine, melted 
Press the mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake 10 minutes.
Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.

The Filling

Combine in a large mixer bowl
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat at medium speed until smooth.
Add, one at a time
3 large eggs  
Mix well at low speed after each egg is added.

Combine in a small bowl
1/4 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Set aside.

Bring to a boil
about 3 Cups water

Place in a small bowl
1 Cup pumpkin (canned or cooked and puréed)
Stir in the sugar / spice mixture.
Remove 3/4 Cup of the mixture and set aside.

Pour the remaining pumpkin mixture into the crumb crust in the pan.
Top with the cream cheese mixture. 
Drop by spoonfuls the reserved pumpkin filling over the top of the filling.
Cut through the filling with a knife to swirl the filling. 

Preheat the oven to 350º F

Place pan in a large baking pan, and add 1 inch of hot water to the larger pan. 
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the centre is just set. The top should appear dull. 
Remove the springform pan from the water bath. 
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. 
Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen.
Cool 1 hour longer, then refrigerate overnight. 

Remove sides of pan. 
Serve with 
whipped cream
Sprinkle with nutmeg (optional)

About the sky this week and next, thanks to the folks at The Farmers' Almanac

December 3 - The December Cold Moon will be astronomically full at 10:47 a.m. E.S.T. This Moon will also be considered a supermoon because it coincides the closest with perigee (December 4). 
Of the year’s 12 full moons, only December’s full Moon comes close enough to Earth (222,443 miles or 357,987 km) to be considered a true supermoon.
Learn more how this month’s full Moon got its names in this short Farmers’ Almanac video: December's Full Cold Moon    

December 4 - The nearly-full waning gibbous Moon is at perigee, its closest point to Earth in its orbit.

December 7 - Earliest sunset of 2017 at 40º N. latitude. This comes come some 2 weeks before the winter solstice, not on the solstice as you might think!

December 8 - Look eastward after midnight to see the waning gibbous Moon paired up with the star Regulus. Regulus will be sitting above the Moon.

December 11-13 - Bundle up for the annual Geminid Meteor Showers! These showers will peak on December 13th. Normally one could expect up to see up to 120 meteors hourly with this display, but the Moon’s brilliant light will likely obliterate all but the very brightest meteors. Regardless, they’re considered the best meteor showers of the year and it’s worth taking a look.
The radiant - that spot in the sky where the meteors will appear to emanate - lies just below and to the right of the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini (hence the name, “Geminids”). Best viewing after midnight when the radiant point is high in the sky, until dawn, no matter where you are. 

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