Easy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie

WIN_20151118_203406So, you agreed to bake pie for the big dinner this week. You had high hopes of learning to make crust from scratch, complete with fancy edges, a lattice top, and all of the frou-frou that you saw on that gourmet food magazine. Then life intervened and you got busy. Don’t worry. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’ve got you covered!

To save time and sanity this holiday week, we’re starting with a store bought, roll-out pie crust. If you’re feeling obligated to make a scratch crust, that’s cool – click on the link above and we’ll walk you through it. But seriously, nobody is going to shun this awesome Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie because you skipped a few steps with the roll-out crust. I doubt they’ll even know the difference.

Let’s get started!


1 roll-out pie crust

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin

1 cup (8 oz) evaporated milk

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt


Step 1) Roll pie crust into a glass pie pan. This is easiest when the pie crust has been allowed to rest on a counter top for about 10 minutes before unrolling. If you try to unroll the pie crust right from the fridge, it will crack. If you let it get too warm, it will stick. 10 minutes is just about right!

Step 2) Trim the pie crust even with the edge of the pie pan. Cut little shapes out of the scraps if you wish, to use as a garnish.

Step 3) Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread mixture on bottom of pie crust as shown.

Step 4) In a medium size mixing bowl, beat eggs and pumpkin. Add sugar, spices, and salt. Finally, add evaporated milk a little at a time until fully incorporated.

WIN_20151118_185524Step 5) Pour pumpkin mixture carefully into your pie crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking for 40 minutes.

Step 6) If using small crust shapes as a garnish, set small crust shapes on a baking sheet and place in the oven for the final 10 minutes of pie baking time. Place baked crust shapes on top of the baked pie.



How to Make Homemade Gravy

WIN_20151118_181452Easy peasy! Today’s post is more “technique” than “recipe”. If you’re roasting a turkey, baking a ham, or cooking any other large portion of meat in the oven, you may as well make homemade gravy! Let’s get started.

WIN_20151118_180101Ingredients (Makes 2 cups)

Drippings from roasting pan

1 tablespoon cornstarch



WIN_20151118_180349Step 1) After you remove your turkey (or other meat) from your roasting pan, scrape all of those funky looking drippings into a sieve placed over a saucepan (see photo). Discard the solids in the sieve.

Step 2) Measure the liquid from the drippings. You need approximately 2 cups for gravy, but you may not have two cups of liquid from the roasting pan. No worries! If you have one cup of liquid from the pan, add 1 cup of broth (chicken broth works for turkey drippings) or water. Make sure you don’t add more water than liquid from the pan. For example, if you only have 1/2 cup of liquid from the drippings, then you can add 1/2 cup of water or broth to make 1 cup of gravy.

Step 3) Bring your liquid to a gentle boil.

Step 4) In a small container (a coffee mug works well), combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Whisk together until absolutely smooth… there should not be even one tiny little lump in the cornstarch mixture! Alternately, you could use a small plastic container with a tight fitting lid, and shake the cornstarch/water mixture until smooth.

WIN_20151118_181250Step 5) Slowly drizzle your smooth cornstarch mixture into the boiling liquid and stir! Keep stirring with gentle boiling until gravy mixture thickens. This should take about 5 minutes.

Step 6) If you want thicker gravy, use an additional tablespoon of cornstarch and repeat steps 4 and 5.

DO NOT ADD POWDERED CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE GRAVY WITHOUT FIRST BLENDING WITH COLD WATER. Seriously. You will end up with a weird, lumpy mess. I, ah, know someone who made this mistake once because she was, ah, in a hurry. Or so I’m told. It was gross. Or at least that’s what a little bird told me.  ;)

You’ll notice that we didn’t add any seasoning to our gravy. This is because I’m assuming that the meat you roasted was seasoned, and those seasonings have already flavored your pan drippings. Taste your gravy. If it’s bland, add salt and pepper a PINCH at a time, tasting after each pinch. You can always add more salt and pepper, but once it’s in there, it’s in there. Don’t overdo it.

That’s all! Easy peasy!

Rosemary Lemon Roast Turkey

WIN_20151118_175731For many years, I was apprehensive about roasting a turkey. I’m not really sure why. The first year I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, I ordered a turkey from a deli – precooked, with ready-made gravy on the side! At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Now, I don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

Roasting a turkey is really, really easy. Before we get started, here are a few pointers. Other cooks may disagree – if so, please join the turkey conversation by posting a comment below!

  1. If there’s not a big price difference between fresh and frozen, buy a fresh turkey. They’re juicier, which is wonderful because roasting is a dry cooking process. I bought a fresh turkey at Aldi for 99 cents per pound.
  2. Unless you have 5 or 6 days to allow a frozen turkey to thaw in your refrigerator, you need to buy a fresh turkey. I have never… not once… seen a frozen turkey fully thawed after only 3 days in my refrigerator (which is what the directions on the turkey wrapping often promise).
  3.  Bigger is not better. If you’re feeding a lot of people, consider buying two small turkeys (10 – 12 pounds each) instead of one, massive bird. Smaller turkeys roast more evenly, and because they require less time in the oven, they are less likely to dry out.
  4. You don’t need a special roasting pan, a baster, a “turkey bag” (to cook a turkey in plastic??), or any other strange turkey paraphernalia. A 10 pound turkey will fit in a 9×13 cake pan. A larger turkey will fit on a jelly roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides at least 1 inch high.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20151118_131852Ingredients (Serves 8)

1 small, fresh turkey (10 – 12 pounds)

2 lemons

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

WIN_20151118_1336221/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter (not margarine), melted


Step 1) In the kitchen sink, remove your turkey from the wrapping. Find the bag of giblets and remove it from your turkey. Check both ends of your turkey for that bag of giblets!

Step 2) Rinse your turkey with cold water on the inside and the outside. Lift the turkey and turn it upside down to drain for a moment. Pat the turkey dry with a clean kitchen towel (and put that towel immediately in the hamper, so you don’t accidentally use it for anything else).

Step 3) Place your turkey in a pan or on a roasting sheet. Rub salt and pepper onto the skin.

Step 4) Poke a few holes with a paring knife in each lemon. Insert rosemary sprigs into several of the holes in each lemon, as shown.

WIN_20151118_133827Step 5) Insert one of the rosemary lemons completely inside of the turkey. Rest the other rosemary lemon near the opening of the turkey cavity.

Step 6) Coat the outside of your turkey with melted butter. Don’t use so much butter that it drips all over the pan (try to avoid that), but make sure at highest part of the turkey is covered. The butter will spread down the sides of the turkey as it roasts, sealing in flavor and giving the turkey skin a golden color.

Note: We are buttering our turkey skin instead of basting. It’s easier and prevents the meat from drying out. A buttered turkey will have a slightly darker color than a basted turkey (or a turkey in a bag), and the skin will be crispy. The end result is delicious!

Step 7) Showtime! Place your turkey in a preheated, 325 degree oven on the lowest rack possible. Your turkey needs to slowly roast until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the turkey (but not against a bone) registers 165 degrees. Your turkey might have a little red timer attached (see photo) – this timer will pop out when your turkey is done. It’s STILL a good idea to check the temperature. Your turkey needs to reach 165 degrees in order to prevent food-borne illness!

How long will your turkey need to roast? That is the million dollar question! Every turkey and every oven is a little bit different. At 325 degrees, a 10 – 12 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of roasting time. Check your turkey after 2 1/2 hours, but don’t open the oven door before then!

Step 8) Let your roasted turkey rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before carving. A “tent” of aluminum foil (just a very loose covering of foil) can be used to prevent heat loss, but that’s not entirely necessary.

Enjoy your roasted turkey!

PS  – Don’t wash that pan! In our next Crowded Earth Kitchen post, we’ll show you how to make gravy with the drippings on that turkey pan!

Apple Cranberry Pie

WIN_20150822_102136I originally made these Apple Cranberry Pies for my cousin’s wedding celebration. It was a magically homespun sort of wedding… think outdoors with perfect weather, wildflowers everywhere, mason jars and homemade pies. The bride looked like she stepped right out of a fairy tale. Sigh. I digress.

Back to the present… apple cranberry pie would be lovely for Thanksgiving! Pressed for time and leery of homemade crust? Feel free to pick up a box of rolled-up, ready to use pie crusts in the refrigerator case at your supermarket and skip right to Step 4. I won’t tell anyone.

Ingredients (serves 8)


2 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2/3 cup cold, unsalted butter (please use real butter for this!)

6 tablespoons vodka

4 tablespoons cold water

2 eggs


6 cups peeled, sliced apples (I used 4 Macintosh and 4 Cortland apples)

1/2 cup cranberries (frozen are fine)

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)


Step 1) Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and allspice in a small mixing bowl. Add cold butter. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry cutter, until mixture resembles a bowl of pea-size crumbs.

Step 2) Sprinkle water and vodka over butter mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. Don’t dump the liquid all in one place! Gently incorporate until a ball of dough forms. If you need to use your hands, that’s fine.

pie2Step 3) Divide dough in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured countertop using a lightly floured rolling pin until the dough is approximately a 12 inch circle. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, no matter what some cookbooks tell you (we’ll fix it later, don’t worry).

Step 4) Fold one of the dough circles over the rolling pin to transfer to a deep dish pie pan. Simply pat the dough lightly into place. If the dough tears, don’t panic, just patch it back together with your fingers. I won’t tell anyone, and seriously, nobody will notice if your crust isn’t picture perfect. Carry on…

pie3Step 5) This is why we don’t care if the crust is a perfect circle… use a small knife to slice off all of the dough that hangs past the edges of your pan! We’ll make it look all fancy in a moment, but for now, we just want the dough even with the edges.

Step 6) Using a tiny cookie cutter or other mold, cut tiny shapes (approximately 1 square inch) from the dough scraps. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired. Set shapes aside.

Step 7) Cover your pie crust with a towel, and make your filling… Combine your apple slices, cranberries, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Mix gently until ingredients are combined.

WIN_20150822_090102Step 8) Sprinkle the bottom of your pie crust with shredded coconut. This is entirely optional, and you really won’t taste the coconut. This steps helps to absorb excess liquid from the pie filling. If you don’t like coconut, try sprinkling the bottom of your pie crust with finely ground pecans.

Step 9) Pour your apple cranberry pie filling into your pie pan. Isn’t it pretty?

Step 10) Top your pie with the second circle of dough. Use your fingers to gently crimp the top and bottom crusts together. Don’t worry if the edge doesn’t look fancy like a cooking show pie crust… just say your pie crust is “rustic” and move on with your day.  ;)

WIN_20150822_092220Step 11) Cut a few slits in your top crust for steam to escape. Brush beaten egg over the top pie crust, and stick on the little dough shapes you cut a few minutes ago. Just work with what you have, and try to space your little dough shapes evenly. There, look at that lovely pie crust! No perfect circle required. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Step 12) Bake your apple cranberry pie on a low rack in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Bread

WIN_20151030_185933This Chocolate Banana Bread is absolutely luscious. Dense and full flavored, this bread works equally well as a breakfast food and a dessert. The trick is to use very ripe bananas. If the skins aren’t black, wait another day or two. Any green on the skin? Don’t even think about it – even a speck of green means that your bananas aren’t ripe at all, let alone ripe enough for this recipe. Patience, friends. Patience.

WIN_20151030_173516Ingredients (Makes 2 loaves, approximately 12 slices per loaf)

4 very ripe bananas (skins should be black)

2 eggs

1/2 cup cooking oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 small (3.9 oz) packages instant chocolate pudding

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups flour

1/4 cup milk


Step 1) Grease and flour two loaf pans. Set aside.

Step 2) Use a pastry cutter or two forks to thoroughly mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, oil, sugar, and almond extract. Mix well.

Step 3) Stir in chocolate pudding mix, baking powder, salt, and flour. Mixture will be very stiff.

Step 4) Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until chocolate banana bread mixture spreads easily with your mixing spoon (more like brownie batter, less like cookie dough). I added a total of 4 tablespoons, or 1/4 cup of milk. You may need a bit more or less, depending upon the size and ripeness of the bananas you used.

Step 5) Spread chocolate banana bread batter into loaf pans. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Step 6) Cool loaves on a wire rack and enjoy!


Fun Variation: Feeling creative? Try experimenting with pudding mix in other flavors. You might try vanilla pudding mix with vanilla extract instead of the almond extract. Or, you might try pistachio pudding with a few coarsely chopped pistachio nuts sprinkled onto the top of each loaf just before baking. If you try a variation on this Chocolate Banana Bread recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

Happy baking!


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Bavarian Apple Pastry

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How to Bake a Chocolate Souffle Blue Cover

Forget what your English professor told you – life stories are not written in college.

Madeleine LaBlange, Annie Anderson, and Audrey Navarro shared formative years as roommates at Chicago’s Catholic haven for women, the historic Abbott College. If only they could have predicted the collisions between their carefully crafted life plans and the realities they discover beyond campus…

Madeleine harbors dreams of becoming a concert pianist while Dr. Reynold Fenwick, her mercurial graduate school mentor, harbors fantasies of Madeleine. Will pursuing her dreams be worth the cost? Will an evening in Budapest change her life forever?

Annie plans to build a perfect family with her perfect husband in the cutthroat news media industry, until an abrupt tragedy shakes the foundations of her marriage. What happens when she feels pulled between the two men she loves most, her husband and her father?

Audrey leaves her religious, restrictive parents behind and aims for Chicago’s downtown skyline, dating recklessly and staring down each grueling workday one Chicago Dog at a time. Will an island respite lure her away from her corporate future? When she finds herself in the arms of an unexpected lover, will she have the courage to stand up for her own evolving sense of self?

Follow the journeys of these remarkable women, and cheer them on as they navigate life, love, and chocolate soufflé.

Includes over a dozen decadent new recipes from Crowded Earth Kitchen!

Cherry Harbor Series, Volume 1

276 pages

CEK Publishing

ISBN-10: 0692292101

ISBN-13: 978-0692292105

Six Ingredient Chili

WIN_20151030_191018Too often, chili is a food of unfortunate extremes. At one end are recipes which profess that only expensive cuts of meat and rare chili peppers grown in obscure South American locations can be used – at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we think that’s silly. At the other end, there’s ready-to-eat chili in a can. Unless you are hiking through the Alaskan wilderness, have gotten lost, and are using canned chili to stay alive, please put the can down.  ;)

Today’s chili recipe is perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon or a quick weeknight dinner. I like to double this recipe and freeze individual portions for fast lunches. A word to the wise: we’re cheating a bit on the six ingredients. Don’t worry – you only need six items from the market. One of those items, salsa, actually contains a whole list of typical chili ingredients including tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and salt. By using salsa, we save ourselves the time of slicing and dicing several other ingredients, but we still capture all of the chili flavor! Let’s get started.

WIN_20151030_164633Ingredients (Makes 8 cups)

1 pound lean ground meat (turkey or beef will work equally well)

4 cups of salsa (any variety and spice level you prefer)

2 cups of corn kernels (fresh, frozen, or canned)

1 small can tomato paste

2 tablespoons ground chili powder (mild, medium, or hot)

2 cans (15 oz each) kidney beans


Step 1) Brown meat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until meat is fully cooked.

Step 2) Drain meat. If you want your chili to be as low-fat as possible, add some water to the meat and drain it a second time.

WIN_20151030_170628Step 3) Add salsa, corn kernels, tomato paste, and chili powder to the meat. If chili mixture is too thick, add water (1 cup at a time) until desired consistency is reached.

Step 4) Simmer chili for 30 minutes, covered. Add kidney beans and heat through. Serve hot.

Step 5) Want fancy chili? Feel free to offer sides of cheddar cheese, sour cream, macaroni noodles, and/or oyster crackers alongside bowls of Six Ingredient Chili. Enjoy!