Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers April: Cheesecake Centerpiece

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

This month's Daring Bakers post was centered on cheesecake. We were given a free hand to flavor and decorate the cheesecake as we desired. I have to confess to not being a huge cheesecake fan, so I decided to highlight what I really enjoy about cheesecake: its tanginess and the contrast of the crust against the creamy cheese cake.

I've posted the recipe below for those who want to try it at home. I wasn't 100% happy with the recipe; I thought the result was too sticky and didn't cut cleanly, but based on the other cheesecakes I've seen posted others didn't have the problems I did (I'm still adjusting to my new oven and that may have been a factor.). My taste testers were extremely happy with the results however, so I consider the whole operation to be a success.

I did not make many changes to the recipe other than adding 3 lemons' worth of zest to the cheesecake batter.

I topped the cheesecake with a thick layer of lemon curd and then piped meringue over the top. I pulled out my handy-dandy bruleeing torch and toasted the top for a lemon meringue pie look.

Here are all recipes I used:

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
  • 2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  • 3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
  • 1 cup / 210 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
  • 1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside. (My note: TRIPLE wrap the pan with foil with save it from encroachment by the water bath.)

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Lemon Curd
This recipe is taken from Elinor Klivans and I love it, check out the Fine Cooking post for helpful photos. The technique of whipping everything together and then heating it save you from whipping up a batch of lemon-scented scrambled eggs.

You'll end up with about two cups, which will be a little too much for the cheesecake, but leftovers are great on toast or scones or ice cream.
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks (save the whites to use in the meringue)
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 min. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer. Don't let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Meringue topping

  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
Start whipping the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar with a beater, as the egg whites fluff up to soft peaks, slowly add the sugar. Whip the egg whites to firm peaks. Spoon with whites into a pastry bag.

Assembling the cheesecake
Spread a layer of lemon curd over the top of the cheesecake. Pipe the egg white meringue over the top the cheesecake. Using a bruleeing torch toast the meringue until golden. If you don't have a torch, you can run the cheesecake under the broiler to brown the top.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Drink of the Week: Blueberry-Ginger Cooler

I am sending thanks to the great folks at Domaine de Canton, who sent me a bottle of this delicious liqueur. I am having a lot of fun experimenting with it! This is the second drink I feel is ready for public viewing and consumption. The current working name is the Blueberry-Ginger Cooler, but I am open to suggestions for a better name.

This drink uses blueberry puree. I had a small amount of puree left over from a video shoot (eek!) I just finished with How 2 Heroes (videos coming soon). To make your own, puree 1/2 cup of blueberries (frozen are perfect for this) with 1/2 cup of water. Alternatively, for a more rustic approach, just muddle some berries (a small handful) right in your mixing glass.

I used tequila in this version, but I think a light rum might be nice too. Also, I tried a small variation and added a wee bit of red wine vinegar (1/4 ounce) to the drink in a small play on a shrub (a fruit, sugar and vinegar cooler - don't knock 'em till you try 'em).

Blueberry-Ginger Cooler
In an iced mixing glass, stir together until well-chilled:
  • 2 ounces Domaine de Canton liqueur
  • 1 ounce tequila
  • 2 ounces blueberry puree
Pour into tall glass and top with 3-4 ounces club soda. Stir to combine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Turkey Tacos

This is a multi-stage recipe (for which I only have one picture, unfortunately), but I thought it was worth sharing with you.

Way back when in November, I bought a locally-raised turkey. Since we didn't need a whole bird just for our little Thanksgiving, I carved off the leg pieces and wings and put them in the freezer until later ...

... many months later ... I found my bag of turkey bits in the deep freeze. I had read about confiting turkey legs and was hoping to save up enough chicken fat to try that technique with these. Despairing of that ever happening I decided to jump start the process by using olive oil and some pork fatback.

I seasoned the pieces with salt and pepper and let them rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, I put the turkey pieces, peppercorns, a head of garlic, and several bay leaves into my crockpot and covered them with oil. After eight hours of slow cooking, the pieces were cooked through and silky. The result was as unctuous as a duck confit and the legs were way too big to fry up in a pan. I pulled the meat off the bones and covered it in the oil.

Now, how to use up this bounty (about three pounds of meat) ? A few pieces got sauteed and served over a salad with a poached egg. A few more went into an omelet. A few more onto a sandwich. Oy, that's a lot of turkey meat I still have in the fridge. So, tonight the rest went into tacos.

Finally, a recipe. Here you go:

Turkey Tacos
serves 4
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (or not, I had it in the fridge)
  • 3 cups cooked turkey meat
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • For serving: tortillas, sour cream, shredded cheese, shredded cabbage, sliced chilies, etc.
Saute onion over medium high heat until translucent. Add the chili powder to the onions and saute a few more minutes. Add tomato sauce, turkey and about 1/4 cup water (1/2 cup if you aren't using tomato sauce). Simmer until turkey is hot, pressing on the meat with a wooden spoon to shred the meat (alternatively, use two forks to shred the meat). Add the lime juice. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with accompaniments of your choice.

Impromptu Carrot Soup

As I mentioned previously, Saturday was a pretty busy day what with making our bees at home. I did a fair amount of work outside as well and when it was time for lunch I was sorta stumped. A quick glance in the refrigerator inspired a speedy soup.

I had a monster bag of baby carrots on hand (leftovers from a large party). I hate baby carrots and knew we'd never get through that bag if we ate them raw. A soup seemed like the best option. I also had some left over orange juice from earlier in the week. Finally, the herb garden is supplying me with chives and sorrel.

I do love orange food, don't I?

Quick Carrot Soup
Serves 2-4
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 pounds carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • water
  • Minced herbs for garnish
  • Yogurt or sour cream for garnish
Saute the onion in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat until translucent. Add carrots, orange juice and enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch.

Bring to a boil and simmer until carrots are soft (about 10-15 minutes; the smaller your carrot pieces, the faster they'll cook). Use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree the soup, adding more water or juice if it's too thick.

Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt and some fresh herbs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Menu for the Week of April 19

So this is what we did this weekend. (Full set of pictures so far is here.)

This is why I didn't go shopping for food and why I have no set menu for this week. I have some leftover turkey not-so-confit, so tonight will be some sort of turkey taco, methinks. After that, I'm not so sure.

Review: 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches

163 Vietnamese Sandwich 66 Harrison Avenue (near Beach Street), Boston, MA, (617) 988-8006
Open daily, cash only.

We went in to Boston yesterday to see a dance performance matinee at the Institute for Contemporary Arts. Since today is Marathon Monday, we thought traffic and crowds might make it tough to get in on time. So we decided to go in early and grab lunch. Beppo had a craving for banh mi and after a holler over on Twitter the Leather District Gourmet was gracious enough to share her recommendation: 163 [Vietnamese] Sandwich.

For those not familiar with these lovely sandwiches (they have gotten a lot of press lately). I was first introduced to them through an essay in John Thorne's wonderful book Pot on the Fire. The best banh mi (pronounced sorta like "bun mee") are made of a small, heated, fresh baguette spread with a mayonnaise-type spread and stuffed with meat or tofu and topped with fresh vegetables. They have become the darling of the foodie world for two reasons: they are usually very inexpensive and they are absolutely delicious!

In my opinion, 163 Sandwich provides one of the better banh mi experiences in Chinatown. The tiny shop was packed with a mixture of students, locals and food-tourists like us. There were a number of helpful photos over the counter; a great feature for those who aren't conversant in banh mi options. They also offered a number of other choices (spring rolls and noodle salads and rice plates) which is nice when you're with a larger group and want to try a variety of options.

We ordered a curried chicken, a shredded pork and (for seconds) a barbecue beef banh mi. Each was topped with daikon, onion, carrot, cucumber, chilies (on request) and cilantro. The rolls were crusty and warm (I will say, at 8-9 inches, they were a tiny bit too big for the fillings, but that's a minor quibble).

The curried chicken filling reminded me a lot of "doubles", a curried chickpea sandwich from the Caribbean. I got mine with extra chilies and three hours later the corner of my mouth was still humming from the heat. Beppo ate both the pork and beef sandwiches and decided that the pork was his favorite of the two.

These sandwiches and this setting are a great introduction to Vietnamese food for the tentative. The variety of flavors in each bite make for an exciting lunch or dinner option. These banh mi are priced from $2.75 to $3.00 each (those are not typos). Unless you're a huge eater, you can get a very satisfying lunch for three bucks! You can't even get a quarter pounder at McDonald's for that, and these sandwiches are so much more delicious and satisfying.

For those of you too far from a Chinatown to have a banh mi experience, here's a post from two years ago (OMG two years!) about homemade banh mi.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Drink of the Week: Ginger-Nashi Cocktail

,A few weeks ago I had the great fortune to attend Cochon 555, an heirloom pig-feast and awareness event. One of the many other products available for tasting at the event was Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. I had seen Domaine de Canton at bars and liquor stores and avoided it because I assumed it was a sweet, artificially flavored alcohol. Boy was I wrong.

Domaine de Canton is a liqueur made from Cognac and baby ginger. The flavor is floral, gingery, with hints of vanilla and spice from the cognac. It's much lighter than you might imagine and would be a great addition to your summer drinks lineup. My first introduction to it was at Cochon 555, in a watermelon mojito. 'Twas delicious and refreshing.

It's going to be fun to experiment with Domaine de Canton in summery, fizzy drinks, but for my first take on it I thought I would add it to Asian pear, or nashi, juice.

Making the juice was easy: puree one seeded and sliced Asian pear in the blender. Pour the pulp into a strainer and press gently to release juice. I got nearly 3 ounces of juice from one Asian pear. (Since the pulp was still pretty juicy, I saved it to use in pancakes.)

Ginger-Nashi Cocktail
In an iced cocktail strainer, combine:
  • 1 oz. gin (a lighter, not-so-ginny gin like Plymouth is best and yes, vodka would be fine)
  • 1 oz. Asian pear juice
  • 1 oz. Domaine de Canton liqueur
Shake until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of Asian pear.

The even proportions worked well for us because the Asian pear was so sweet. You may want to add more juice if it's not so sweet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ouzo-Spiked Shrimp

This is a great "what the heck's the dinner tonight?" dish. Everything you need to make it comes from the freezer or kitchen cabinet, if you've got a little fresh greenery for garnish, all the better!

Ouzo-Spiked Shrimp
Serves 4
Recipe notes: I used ouzo to deglaze the pan and add a fennel flavor to the dish, but you can use white wine, rum, tequila or dry vermouth instead.

If you prefer, you can leave out the chickpeas and double the amount of shrimp.
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup ouzo
  • 1 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes, tomatoes chopped or torn into pieces
  • 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 pound of shrimp
  • minced herb for garnish, optional
In a large skillet, over medium-high heat saute the onion and garlic with a little olive oil until softened and a barely golden. Deglaze the pan with the ouzo, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the alcohol boil off until the pan is almost dry.

Add the tomatoes to the pan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer until a little thickened. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed.

Stir the chickpeas, capers and shrimp into the pan. Simmer until the beans are warmed and the shrimp are cooked through.

Serve with rice, pasta or a big hunk of fresh bread.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Week of April 12

Here's a picture of some of the first flowers that bloom in our garden. The taller flowers are Hellebores. They are a wonderful addition to your garden: they grow in shade to part shade, are evergreen, and (beat of all!) they bloom in very early spring. The smaller flowers are Scillas and are a great flower to go under larger plants.

End of brief horticultural interlude ...

My fridge and freezer are full of a random collection of ingredients so I'm trying to clear out as much space as I can in advance of the growing season (wishful thinking). Plus, after my great visit to King Arthur I'm baking more bread, so I'm trying to make a lot of dishes in which the bread isn't an afterthought, but an integral part of the meal.

Menu for the Week
Chicken in a mustard-cream leek and cabbage sauce
Mashed potatoes with green garlic

Shrimp and tomato stew (I'm going to for something cioppino-esque)
Homemade sourdough bread

Not home - I'm teaching a class on making fresh pasta

Yay, The Butlers are visiting!
Cowboy steaks
Grilled Caesar salads
Oven fried potatoes and sweet potatoes

Turkey leg confit salad with fresh bread

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Drink of the Week: Seelbach

I was planning on posting this recipe on Friday night. But, as it is a champagne cocktail, it's actually an appropriate starter for your Easter dinner too. Note: this is our first outdoor cocktail picture of the year. It was a lovely, warm spring evening. (It's 34 degrees today. Ah, Spring, you fickle, fickle season.)

I was first introduced to the Seelbach at No. 9 Park, a really fabulous, high-end Boston restaurant carried it on their cocktail list when we were there a year or so ago. Its sweetness makes it a nice after dinner drink but the festive fizz from the champagne (and the gentle mule-kick from the bourbon) makes an appropriate apertif for a festive occassion. The history of the Seelbach is here.

On Friday, Dinner Party Download made the Seelbach their Drink of the Day. Seeing their tweet reminded me of what a lovely cocktail the Seelbach is so I put it into the rotation. By the way, The Dinner Party Download is a super-duper podcast, as they put it: "The Dinner Party Download is a fast and funny "booster shot" of unconventional news, cuisine and culture to help you win this weekend’s dinner party." They won my heart with that last phrase - dinner parties can seem like battlegrounds at times. The DPD is a funny, informative and quick hit of data. What other podcast gives you a drink recipe, an icebreaking joke, neat factoids and food and drink and cocktail party chatter?

Briefly stir together in an iced mixing glass, just to chill:
  • 3/4 ounce bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  • 7 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 7 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Strain into a champagne flute and top with chilled brut Champagne (We used cheap Spanish cava instead. Nowhere near as swell, big fat bubbles, but hella cheaper.) Garnish with an orange twist.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fear not the Souffle

Souffles aren't that hard to make. Stop laughing. I promise you, if you can bake muffins, scramble an egg, or make macaroni and cheese, you can bake a souffle. It's even easier when you're baking that souffle as part of a casual dinner for you and your sweetie and not trying to impress dinner guests company. (You can impress dinner guests after you've practiced a few times.)

When preparing a classic dish like this, I feel it's best to turn to a trusted guide. Who's more trusted than Julia Child when it comes to classic French dishes? Julia's voice is so comforting and she's also realistic. In her book From Julia Child's Kitchen she outlines, in great detail (four full pages!), how to make a cheese souffle. In addition to Gruyere She mentions several other great cheese options including cheddar (which she says "... makes a fine souffle with excellent flavor, but it is a strictly American taste.")

I had extra filling from making spinach pie so I thought I'd make a spinach souffle for supper. With some toast and a little salad it was a delicious and comforting dinner. A nice thing about souffles: you don't need to buy a lot of expensive ingredients. Eggs, butter and cheese are pretty much all you need.

One note about beating egg whites: Many recipes that call for beating egg whites terrify the reader with cautions to not let a drop of fat or yolk touch the whites. They warn that that will result in whites that will not beat up to a full fluffiness. While I'm not saying you shouldn't be careful to keep your white clean, don't freak out about it. See these whites? I dropped some yolk in there while I was separating the eggs and decided to press on. Beautiful fluffy whites!

If you don't know how to separate eggs, I refer you to this video on How2Heroes.

This recipe looks long, but it really should only take you about 10 minutes to put into the oven. The more you do it, the faster you get.

Spinach Souffle
Serves 4-6
A note on baking dish sizes: Julia recommends a traditional souffle dish: 6" across and 4" high. You'll need to put a parchment paper or aluminum foil collar on that dish to ensure that the souffle doesn't overflow. I use a dish that's just large enough to hold the batter. By not using a collar and using a large-enough dish, I get a good rise on the souffle without having the build a collar. For safety's sake - I always bake on a baking sheet in case it rises higher than I expected.
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked spinach, squeezed as dry as possible
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese (Use 4 ounces if you're making a cheese souffle. I like cheddar, or a cheddar/parmesan mix - just keep the flavors on the stronger side)
  • butter for greasing baking dish
  • extra grated cheese for sprinkling over the top
Preheat the oven to 375 and set the oven rack to the lower middle rung. Grease a baking dish and set it on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir well with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk gradually until it is all added in. You're making a thick white sauce, the whisking is essential as you don't want any lumps in the sauce. By adding the milk gradually you keep the sauce smooth. Check the seasoning on the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.

Whisk the egg yolks into the sauce you've just made. Stir in the chopped spinach.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula fold 1/4 of the whites into the sauce. Fold the now lightened sauce into the rest of the whites. As you're folding the sauce and whites together, sprinkle the cheese over the bowl, and fold the cheese in as well.

When everything is folded gently together pour it into the baking dish and sprinkle some additional cheese over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the souffle is well puffed and browned. If you're baking in a very thick dish (like I did this time - the dish's sides are easily 3/4" thick), this will slow down the baking and you may want to go longer: about 40-50 minutes.

Pull the puffed, lovely souffle from the oven and serve. If when you're served up you realize that the souffle isn't cooked through (might look raw) - don't despair. Spoon off the cooked layer and serve that. Just put the souffle back into the oven and cook for another 10 minutes or so, then just serve up a second course of souffle!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Springtime Projects

Here's one of our springtime projects: we're adding to our menagerie this year with two beehives. We started building our hives last weekend. They come as kits and we decided to save a buck or two by assembling our hives.

We'll see how smart this decision was after I've finished assembling all sixty [honeycomb] frames.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Here's my second entry into ATOM (A Taste of the Mediterranean). Every month the panel selects a country and dish as a basis for variation. This month's country is Italy and the dish is gnocchi. (As I was writing this post, I realized that I missed the entry date by a day - ah well, their loss = our gain.)

I've made traditional potato gnocchi many times and recenlty have really become a convert to pan-fried gnocchi. Instead of boiling the gnocchi, they are panfried and either sauced in the traditional manner (with a ragu, for instance) or served in or as a salad.

I'm on my own tonight so I thought I'd try this technique with sweet potato gnocchi instead (Beppo isn't a huge fan of sweets). I'd say the results were an unqualified success. The gnocchi fried up into fluffy little bites and I ate them up, dipped in spicy ketchup. This posting at Cookthink was an inspiration for my recipe.

Aside from roasting off the sweet potaotes, which I did a day ahead when the oven was on for something else, this recipe actually came together pretty quickly: about 20 minutes from idea to skillet. I didn't boil these gnocchi, so I can not vouch for their ability to hold together in boiling water.

Pan-Fried Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Serves 4-6
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, baked until tender
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1.5 - 2 cups flour
Put the potatoes through a ricer or grater. Stir the eggs, salt and pepper into the potatoes. Add in half the flour and stir it in with a rubber spatula. Keep adding flour (press it in with the spatula) until you have a soft dough. It should hold together and not feel too sticky.

Roll the dough into thick ropes (about 3/4" inch around) and then cut it into inch-long pieces with a bench knife or table knife. Roll each piece (adding flour if things get sticky) down the tines of a fork (or on a butter paddle, like I do).

After you've finished cutting and rolling gnocchi, you can fry them up. In a hot non-stick or cast iron skillet, saute the gnocchi over medium-high heat until browned well on both sides.

I ate mine dipping in spicy ketchup, but I think these wouldbe great with sage and brown butter, or tossed with crispy pancetta, asparagus and onion.
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