New York Cheesecake

recipe courtesy of Joy of Baking.com

Check out their video here.

Ahh Cheesecake…rich, dense, and elegant.  You can serve cheesecake at your fanciest dinner party, or you can serve it on a random Tuesday night and it will elevate even the most humble meal.

I did some research for this post ( EzineArticles.com) and I discovered that the origin of cheesecake is Greek.  A form of cheesecake was first served to the athletes in the Olympics, to be eaten as an energy source.  The Greek people afterwards started making the little cakes and it became a custom for the bride-to-be to make and serve them to the friends of the groom.  That custom turned into brides and grooms serving wedding cake to their guests.

The cheesecakes that we know and love today, originate from immigrant New York City neighborhoods.  There are two styles; Italian, which uses ricotta cheese in the recipe and sometimes even candied fruits, and Jewish  or New York style, which is the cream cheese version.

This recipe comes from Joy of Baking.com.  I have lots and lots of cheesecake recipes, but I chose this one because their website has a video that accompanies the recipe.  I watched the video, and I thought it might be helpful to anyone out there who has never made a cheesecake, or hasn’t made one in a while. With Easter coming up, it is time to dig out the cheesecake recipes and start planning a menu. Hopefully one of these will fill the need for your holiday cheesecake. Enjoy!

Cheesecake Berry Baskets

Cheesecake Bars

Mini Easter Cheesecakes

Crust Ingredients

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

Filling Ingredients

32 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (use full fat, not reduced or fat free)

1 cup sugar

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1 Tablespoon lemon zest (I used the zest of 1 lemon and 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping Ingredients

1 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. You will need a 9 inch springform pan for this recipe.  Spray the pan with Pam, and place it on a baking sheet.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place the rack in the center of the oven.

2. To make the crust- Place the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a medium-sized bowl and combine using a rubber spatula.  Pour crumbs into prepared springform pan.  Press an even layer of crumbs on the bottom of the pan and about one inch up the sides.  You can use a spoon, or your hands, I used my hands.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you have the filling made.

3. To make the filling-Using an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, sugar and flour.  Mix on a low-medium speed until smooth.  You do not want to beat this hard or fast because it adds too many air bubbles.  Just take your time and mix until the lumps are gone.  You will have to stop several times and scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl just to make sure that the mixture is smooth.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix on a low-medium speed until each egg is incorporated into the batter.  Stop and scrape the bowl several times as you do this.  Add the whipping cream, lemon zest and vanilla.  Again, mix on a low-medium speed.  After everything is mixed, scrape the bowl sides and bottom and make sure you’ve got all the lumps out.  Take the pan out of the fridge and place it back on the baking sheet.  Pour the filling into the pan, and place the pan in the preheated oven.

5. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 °F., then lower the oven temperature to 250 °F.   Continue to bake for about 60-90 minutes, or until firm and only the center of the cheesecake looks a little wet and wobbly or giggly ( I checked my cheesecake at 60 minutes and it was not ready, so I added 5 minutes.  I checked it again and added 5 more minutes, and then it was done…so mine took 70 minutes).  Remove the cheesecake from the oven and place on a wire rack, leave the oven on.

6. To make the topping- Mix the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla together in a small bowl.  Spread the topping gently over the hot cheesecake, then place the cheesecake back in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the cheesecake from the oven and using a sharp knife on the inside edge of the pan, loosen the cheesecake from the edge of the pan.  Doing this helps to prevent the cheesecake from cracking.  Do not remove the sides of the pan.

7. Let the cheesecake cool completely, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (overnight is best).  When you are ready to serve, remove the sides of the pan, slice the cheesecake and garnish with fruit or sauce.

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Chocolate Cherry-Almond Biscotti

adapted from Butter-Pecan Biscotti by King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons vegetable shortening

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted*

2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped

2/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the almond extract, baking powder, and salt.

4. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time, until well blended.

5. Add nuts, fruit, and chips, and mix until they are well-distributed throughout the dough.

6. Place dough down the center of a lightly greased baking sheet.  With wet hands, pat dough into the shape of a log, about 12 by 4 1/2 inches.  Shape dough so that it is slightly mounded in the center, and lower on the sides.

7. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove dough from the oven and allow it to cool for about 45 minutes.  Lower oven temperature to 300°F.

8. Place log on a cutting board and, using a serrated blade, slice on the diagonal into 1 inch wide slices.  Place slices, cut side up, on an ungreased baking sheet.

9. Bake for about 20 minutes, turn them over, and bake for about 20 minutes more, or until they are golden and toasty.

* To Toast Nuts- Place nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking pan and bake at 350°F.  for about 7-9 minutes, or until they are golden brown and yummy smelling.  Watch them carefully so that they do not burn.

Boston Brown Bread & Berries

Ingredients

1- 16 oz. can B&M Brown Bread

1-8oz. package cream cheese, softened

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons milk, or heavy cream

8 nice strawberries

Directions

1. Remove the bread from the can and slice it into 8 evenly cut pieces.

2. Place the cream cheese, sugar, and milk in a bowl.  Beat the mixture until it is smooth, adding more milk  if  necessary.  Spread cream cheese mixture on each slice of brown bread.

3. Slice each strawberry about 4 to 5 times, leaving the berry connected at the top and leaving the green top intact.  Fan out the strawberry and place it gently on top of the cream cheese layer.

Colcannon Soup

Colcannon Soup by Bryan Roof is courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated Soups & Stews, Winter 2010

Boston Commons Press Limited Partnership, 17 Station St., Brookline, Ma. 02445

cooksillustrated.com

A  magazine put out by America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated Soups & Stews, is where I got this hale and hearty recipe .  I love their magazines, they are always chock full of information, cooking tips, and extra recipes.  I had heard of Colcannon before, but really didn’t know what kind of food it was.  The author of this recipe, Bryan Roof, spent a cold November travelling through Ireland, subsisting only on soda bread, Guinness, and Colcannon (a mash-up of potatoes, cabbage, onions and cream).  Once he returned to the states, he couldn’t find Colcannon on a menu anywhere, but he was able to find an Irish pub that made a Colcannon soup.  He liked the soup more than the Colcannon dish and set about perfecting the recipe.

Although the items in this soup are simple and humble, the taste is anything but.  The slow cooked onions and cabbage impart a sweetness, the wine keeps the chicken broth from overtaking the flavor, and the cream at the end is the icing on the cake.  Be sure to sprinkle the crumbled bacon and chopped green onions on top before serving.  I had planned on baking  Irish Soda Bread to go with this soup, but after Mark came home from work I had a Guinness with him.  Then while I was cooking dinner, I had a glass of Chardonnay.  After that I was in no mood to bake, so we had a cheese tray and crackers with the soup instead.  If you’re not into corned beef, this is an authentic Irish dish that can take its place on St. Patrick’s Day.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used 4 slices)
1 medium onion, minced
1 pound leeks, white and green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin and rinsed thoroughly (tutorial below)
8 ounces green cabbage (about 1/2 small head), cored and chopped medium (about 4 cups)
2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
12 ounces red potatoes (about 3 medium), cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons fresh chives, minced

 

Before we start cooking, I have a short tutorial on how to clean leeks.  If you already know this process, just skip forward.

1. Leeks look like giant green onions.  They are very dirty, and must be cleaned well before you can use them.

 

2. Start by chopping off the bottoms and most of the dark green tops.

 

3. Slice the leeks lengthwise…see all that dirt (click on the photo to enlarge).

 

4. Chop the leeks, dirt and all.

 

5. Place the chopped leeks in a large bowl, or sink,  with cold water and allow them to soak for a few minutes so that the dirt is loosened.  Rinse and repeat.

 

6. Once you have cleaned the leeks, transfer them to a colander and rinse them really well, then allow them to drain.

Directions

1. Cook bacon in a large dutch oven over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5-7 minutes.

 

2. Remove bacon, drain on paper towels, and leave fat in pot.

 

3. Add onion, leeks, and cabbage to bacon fat in pot and stir to coat.  Cover and cook over a medium heat until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.

 

4. Stir in flour and cook for about 1 minute.

 

5. Stir in wine, scraping any browned bits, and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in chicken broth and potatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

 

6. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream, season with salt and pepper.  Serve in bowls with reserved crumbled bacon and chives as a garnish.

Empty Nest

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Mark and I are parents to two great kids.  Our son, Robert, is a Pharmacy Tech in the USAF.  Our daughter Danielle, is a first year teacher, with a special needs classroom of her very own. Mark and I are empty-nesters and really do enjoy this time in our life.  But it wasn’t always that way…

When the house first emptied out, I was very depressed.  Not the “crying all the time, can’t get out of bed” depressed.  The best way to describe it is that I was apathetic.  All the things that I love to do (cooking, sewing, baking, painting, scrapbooking, etc.) held no interest for me.  I did not realize that I was depressed, how could I be?  I was functioning!  I carried on with my regular life, I did the laundry and cleaned the house (that should have been a clue right there) and just went from day-to-day.  I went for months and did not write my blog because writing Bobby’s goodbye blog had been so very difficult for me to write, and letting him go had been even harder.  I was beginning to feel a little lost when our daughter, the Psych major, diagnosed me.

Once I realized what my problem was, I addressed it.  I allowed myself to cry, but not dwell, and I talked to my sweetie pie, Mark, and my girlfriends about it.  Mark assured me that an empty nest was a good thing, and that I should allow myself a glass of wine on the deck once in a while, and enjoy working on my projects without being interrupted.  Slowly, I emerged from the cloud and I’m in a good place now.  For those of you in a similar place, or those of you that recognize yourself here, it does get better.

I had to find a way to replace being needed . I had devoted a good part of my life to raising a family and had always been on the clock, so to speak. As the kids grew older, and took on more responsibilities in the home, my job changed from being chief cook and bottle washer (when they were very young) to counselor, advisor, and driver.  However, I still had a job.  It was still important for me to impart wisdom, guide them through life’s messy times, and be there for them when the outside world was harsh and unforgiving.  Up until the moment they left home, I was still that little voice in their ear; the nudge to do the right thing, the reminder of their value and worth, the assurance that life can be crazy at times and you will get through it (I still do that).

Then, just like that, our contact was limited to random text messages, and sporadic phone calls.  They had flown from the nest (Bobby went to Basic Training and Danielle left again for college), and were now out in the world evolving into the responsible adults that we had hoped to raise.  I felt like I wasn’t needed anymore, and I didn’t know how to shift the focus of my life from my role as a Mom, to my role as Elizabeth. I finally started doing more things for me, and after a while, I did not feel guilty about it either.

I am writing about this now because back-to-school can be a depressing time for some people (and some people are drinking champagne at the bus stop).  I just wanted any of you out there who may be going through a tough time, or going through a spell where you just don’t feel like yourself, or feel like you are just going through the motions to know that you are not alone and it will get better.  Talk to someone you trust about it (a counselor, your doctor, your pastor, a friend, your sweetie pie) and feel better.  You owe it to yourself!

Peaches in Syrup

Peaches-in-Syrup-jars-on-towel

Recipe and canning instructions are courtesy of Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, published by Robert Rose Inc.

 

One summer, a few years ago, I did a lot of canning. Our pantry overflowed with jams, fruit butters, salsa, pickles and fruits in syrups.  All during that fall and winter we reaped the rewards of my hard work and enjoyed fresh-tasting pears, peaches, Jardiniere, apricot butter, strawberry jam, cherries, and every kind of pickled vegetable I could think of.

Peaches-in-Syrup-peaches-with-scale

So when I happened upon these large, lovely peaches, all I could think of was how nice they were going to taste in January and February.  This is a small batch because I only bought 5 1/2 pounds and you really need about 8 or 10 pounds of peaches for a nice, large batch.

Peaches-in-Syrup-canning-equipment

To begin canning you will need a big pot and a canning jar insert ( I bought mine as a set).  The magnetic lid lifter, bubble eliminator and measuring tool, funnel, and jar lifter are conveniently sold together as a set.  You will also need canning jars ( choose wide mouth- they are easier to fill), lids and rings.  I used 7 pint jars, however you could use 4 quart jars instead.  Also, while you are in the store buying the jars and lids, buy a box of the white, plastic screw-on lids.  Months from now when you pull a jar of goodies out of the cupboard, you will save the ring and throw the metal lid away.  The rings can be reused, the metal lids cannot be reused.  You will then place the white lid on the jar before placing the jar in the fridge.

Canning is not difficult, but it is time-consuming, so plan accordingly.  From start to finish today, not including the cooling time for the processed jars, it took me about 2 hours.  That’s pretty quick as far as canning goes and that’s because this is an easy recipe.  Canning is a great way to save the flavor of your garden (or the farmer’s market and grocery store) for the fall and winter.  There is nothing like home-canned apricot butter on toast in January, to bring that summer feeling to a cold, snowy day.  Enjoy!

Peaches-in-Syrup-jars

1. Wash the jars, lids and screw bands in hot, soapy water.  Rinse well and drain.

2. Place rack in the bottom of a boiling-water canner, then place jars on the rack.  The water should cover the top of the jars.  Cover the canner and bring the water to a simmer, you do not need to boil the jars yet.  Keep the jars in the canner until ready to use.

3. Set the screw bands aside, they should be at room temperature so that you can easily place them on the jars.  Place the flat, round lids in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer.  They do not need to be boiled, but they should be kept hot (like the jars) until you are ready to use them.

Peaches-in-Syrup-peaches-with-fruit-fresh

4. Prepare the peaches and syrup:  Fill a large bowl 3/4 full with water and about 3 Tablespoons Fruit Fresh (it helps the fruit to retain it’s pretty color).   Peel, pit, and slice the peaches.  Place slices in large bowl of water containing Fruit Fresh.  Mix syrup (recipe follows) and bring to a boil, stir and reduce heat to simmer once the sugar has dissolved.  Keep syrup warm.  Place as many peach slices as possible in the warm syrup for at least 1 minute before placing the peaches in the jars.

Peaches-in-Syrup-peaches-in-pint-jar

5. Working with one jar at a time, remove a jar from the canner using the jar lifter, carefully pouring the water back into the canner.  Place the jar on a folded towel (or cutting board) to protect the counter.  Ladle or use tongs to place the warmed peaches in the hot jar, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Ladle in hot syrup, leaving 1/2 inch head space (head space is the distance between the top of the jar and the top of the food).  Using the bubble eliminator and measuring tool, slide the tool down in the jar and move the peaches a little, two or three times to remove the air bubbles.  Add more syrup if necessary.

6. Wipe the jar rim and threads with a clean, damp cloth.  Using the magnetic lid lifter, lift a hot lid from the saucepan and place it on top of the prepared jar.  Place the screw band on top of the lid and tighten it with your hand until resistance is met, then tighten by hand.  Don’t use a tool to tighten the bands on the jars.

7. Return the jar to the canner and continue this process until all the peaches are in jars, and all the jars are in the canner (you may have to eat a few stray peach slices).

8. Make sure all the jars are covered with water by at least 1 inch.  Cover the canner and bring water to a full rolling boil.  Start the timer once the boil is vigorous and continuous.  The water must continue to boil the entire 25 minutes for pint jars, and 30 minutes for quart jars.

9. At the end of 25 (or 30 ) minutes, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid.  Allow the jars to remain in the canner for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars with the jar lifter and place on towels, in a draft free spot to cool.  Keep jars upright and do not touch the lids or seals because it could interfere with the sealing process.  Allow the jars to sit for 24 hours.

10. After 24 hours check the lids to make sure the jars are properly sealed; Remove the screw bands, press down on the center of each lid.  Sealed lids will curve downward and show no movement when pressed.  You should also check to see if the lid is easily removed just by lifting the edge with your finger.

Peaches-in-Syrup-7-jars

11. If the jar is properly sealed, wipe the jar with a clean, damp cloth and label the jar.  Store the labeled jars in a cool, dark,  pantry or cupboard.

12. If the jar is not properly sealed, you can re-process the jar in hopes of obtaining a proper seal.  Or you can refrigerate the jar and use its contents within a few days.

13. Use home-canned foods within 1 year.

 

 Syrup for Peaches ( 8-10 pounds peaches per 1 batch of syrup)

Light Syrup: 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 5 1/4 cups water.

Medium Syrup: 3 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 5 cups water.

Heavy Syrup: 4 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 4 1/4 cups water.

 

Pasta Sauce

IMG_0485

Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Levesque

Ingredients

1 large onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, shaved or minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

4-15 oz. cans tomato sauce

2-14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained well

2 bay leaves

Italian seasoning

granulated garlic

red pepper flakes

salt and fresh ground pepper

sugar

sliced mushrooms, optional

chopped green peppers, optional

Directions

1. Prepare garlic by peeling and mincing or shaving into very thin slices.

2. Heat olive oil til hot. If using fresh mushrooms, add to pot with sliced garlic and onions.  Saute in olive oil until soft, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add tomato paste and continue to saute until the onions and garlic are translucent.

3. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, optional chopped peppers, and bay leaves.  Stir and keep the pot on simmer.

4. There are no amounts listed for the rest of this recipe because everyone likes a different taste.  Add the seasonings, pepper flakes and sugar to your taste, a little at a time until it is just right.

5. Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.  This will make enough sauce for about 3 pounds of pasta.