Though apple pies tend to dominate this time of year, on chilly nights it's nice to remember that pie can have a savory side, too.
So we brought together another star ingredient sweet potatoes and paired it with salty, savory ground pork and sausage. For good measure and to add a touch of sweetness to balance the fatty meats, we even tossed in a few apples. Heaped high in a purchased deep-dish pie crust, the combination was not just delicious, but also beautiful.
AP Photo - - Onion and Mushroom Soup
AP Photo - - Sweet Potato and Apple Pork Pie
AP Photo - - Blue Cheesecake with Cabernet Caramelized Pears and Pepper-Walnut Crust
The goal liberate cheesecake from the dessert course. And it was easier than we thought.
While rich, creamy cheesecake is a fine way to end the meal, we didn't think it had to be sweet to do so. We wanted a savory cheesecake, one that could finish the meal as a cheese course. And so we cut the sugar and substituted blue cheese for part of the cream cheese.
And since blue cheese pairs so nicely with fruit, we added a topping of pears poached in red wine and balsamic vinegar. A black-pepper walnut crust accentuates the play on sweet and savory. The combination is breathtakingly rich and satisfying, as well as visually stunning. It is the perfect way to end a holiday meal.
But note this cheesecake is exceptionally rich. Serve it in small slivers. Both the cheesecake and pears also hold well and can be prepared a day or two ahead. The pears can be served warm, room temperature or chilled. To reheat the pears, simply place them and the syrup in a large saute pan and heat over low.
French onion soup
French onion soup is a classic well suited for this time of year. The dark, rich broth and cheese-encrusted top are perfect for fending off a chilly evening.
For our version, we added a few more members of the onion family (leeks and shallots), a handful of herbs, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms. If you'd like to keep it vegetarian, you can swap out the beef and chicken broths for vegetable broth.
Onion and Mushroom Soup
Start to finish: 1 hour. Serves 4.
2 ounce-package dried porcini or similar mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
5 tablespoons butter, divided
3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine
2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 slices stale crusty bread
4 slices fontina cheese
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish
Cut or break the dried mushrooms into small pieces and place in heat-safe bowl. Pour the boiling water over the mushroom pieces and set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onions and cook slowly until well-browned, stirring regularly, about 15 to 20 minutes. If the onions begin to get too browned, add a couple teaspoons of water. When the onions are browned and caramelized, add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Add the leeks, shallots, garlic, thyme, rosemary and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the leeks are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat everything. Pour in the chicken and beef broths, then stir well and bring to a boil. Add the steeped mushrooms (including the liquid), then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the broiler.
Ladle the soup into 4 oven-safe crocks. Top each with a slice of the stale bread, then a slice of the cheese. Arrange the crocks on a rimmed baking sheet, then place under the broiler and cook until the cheese is melted and begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with fresh chives.
Sweet Potato and Apple Pork Pie
Start to finish: 1 hour. Serves 8.
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
1 pound ground pork
1 pound loose sausage meat
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 prepared deep-dish pie crust (raw)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Heat the oven to 400 F.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, bring about 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a small saute pan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion, 1 tablespoon of the sage, the allspice, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the pork, sausage meat, apple, breadcrumbs, egg and the onion mixture. Pat this mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl mash together the sweet potato, remaining 1 tablespoon sage, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the nutmeg and lemon zest. After the pork cooks for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and dollop the sweet potato mixture over the surface.
Return the pie to the oven and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the sweet potato begins to brown and the pie registers 165 F at the center. Cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 540 calories; 270 calories from fat (51 percent of total calories); 30 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 115 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 5 g fiber; 770 mg sodium.
Blue Cheesecake with Cabernet Caramelized Pears and Pepper-Walnut Crust
Start to finish: 6 hours (45 minutes active). Serves 24.
For the crust:
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted
For the filling:
1 pound (two 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces strong blue cheese, such as roquefort
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
For the pears:
4 fresh, firm pears such as bosc
1 1/2 cups cabernet sauvignon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a food processor, pulse together the walnuts, sugar, flour, salt, and black pepper until the walnuts are the size of small peas. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is just moistened. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges and fragrant. Leave the oven on.
While the crust bakes, mix the cake filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese, blue cheese, flour and sugar. Mix on medium-low until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl in between until the eggs are thoroughly incorporated.
After the crust is baked, pour the filling into the pan and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the center just barely jiggles when you shake the pan and the top slightly puffs. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (and up to 2 days) before serving.
To prepare the pears, peel the pears, then cut each half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the core.
In a deep saute pan, combine the wine, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the pears, core side down. Allow the mixture tto simmer until the liquid is syrupy and the pears are caramelized and tender, occasionally basting the pears with the liquid, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the springform pan to loosen the cheesecake. Remove the sides of the pan. If desired, run a long spatula under the crust and slide the cake onto a serving plate. Top the cheesecake with the caramelized pears.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 246 calories; 144 calories from fat; 16 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 62 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 2 g fiber; 238 mg sodium.