Ingredient SpotLight

March 20 is Maple Syrup Day and boy do we have a lot to celebrate. Whether it's slathered over pancakes, added to a spicy barbeque sauce or the sweetness factor for a special dessert, maple syrup is liquid gold. And now's the time of the year when it's being made in North America. While Europe is home to maple trees, the weather there doesn't produce the optimal conditions for collecting sap and producing maple syrup that are present in North America.

Maple sap starts to transform to maple syrup when the sap reaches about 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. The process is time consuming and it usually takes about 36 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. No wonder the stuff is so expensive! But one taste of pure maple syrup is truly bliss. There are four basic grades of maple syrup ranging from US Grade AA -- or Fancy -- that's very light in color to US Grade B that's far darker. I actually prefer a medium amber maple syrup and think that the fancy stuff doesn't have the nice flavor of the darker stuff.

In honor of the maple syrup making season and Maple Syrup Day, I'm offering a few creative and tasty recipes that call for it. While you might find yourself tempted to substitute imitation maple syrup, DON'T! These recipes don't call for large amounts of it and the unique flavors and properties of pure maple syrup really are required. Heck, just break down and get yourself a supply of the stuff and know that you can celebrate Maple Syrup Day in style!

Maple Vinaigrette

This spicy-sweet dressing is wonderful when paired with fresh greens, some sliced pairs and shaved cheese.
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 2 T. horseradish
  • 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 c. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely crushed

Combine all of the ingredients in a screw-top jar. Shake vigorously to combine and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

  • Yields: about 1 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Maple-Glazed Drummies

Like many of my favorite recipes featuring maple syrup, it tames the spicy nature of these wings and brings a little sweetness to the party.
  • 4 oz. maple syrup
  • 5 T. chili sauce
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 T. cider vinegar
  • 1 T. mustard
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2.5 lbs. chicken drumsticks

Combine the maple syrup, chili sauce, onion, cider vinegar, mustard and Worchester sauce in a shallow dish. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of 4 hours in the refrigerator, keeping them covered and turning occasionally. Broil, bake or grill the chicken drumsticks until thoroughly cooked, basting occasionally.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus marinating time

Pumpkin-Maple Cheesecake

This is actually my all-time favorite cheesecake. It combines two of my favorite comfort foods: maple syrup and pumpkin.
  • ¼ c. butter, melted
  • 1 ¼ c. graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. salt

Combine the butter, crumbs and sugar. Press the mixture into a 9” spring-form pan.

In large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in the sweetened condensed milk until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake at 300F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until set (the center will be slightly soft). Cool and then chill.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 90 minutes

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