Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekend house guests: Red Wine Braised Short Ribs and Crustless Quiche

King Arthur toasted coconut scones

Finally feeling mostly better and happy to report on a relaxing birthday weekend.

And that's where I left this post last night to go watch the Oscars with my family.  Just after 11:00 p.m. I pull myself up from a very lovely supine position on the carpet in front of the fire and below the big screen and sleepily make my way upstairs to go to bed.  Through our big picture windows lightning flashed now and again through the woods and the temperature was up to almost 70 creating an eerie dense fog.  I wake up a couple of times in the middle of the night and without my glasses I can't see rain, but I certainly can hear it but I roll back to sleep.  Apparently both Greg and I missed quite a storm, we missed over 2 inches of rain in about three hours, we missed the sirens and we missed the sump pump working valiantly but failing to keep the water out of our very lovely finished basement.  Bad surprise.

Probably twelve hours now since the water started coming in and just a trickle of water is coming into the sump pit and the Servicemaster people have left for the day taking all the wet carpet pad with them and leaving many fans and dehumidifiers.  The house is humming (loudly).  The cat is seriously freaked out by the chaos and the relocation of his litter box.  The bar stools, coffee tables and lamps are in the dining room.  Greg's office has relocated to the kitchen table.  So things are topsy-turvy, but about as normal as you can hope.  And by the way, it is no longer 70.  It's back in the 30's which I believe is how this all got started.

And so I'll try to just shelve the last few hours and return to my original intention of writing a little post about my brother and sister-in-law's visit for my birthday.  Keith and Karen arrived just in time for Karen and I to glam up a bit and attend the preview dinner at the new Seasons 52 restaurant at the Fashion Mall.  I believe we had 7 wine glasses and 7 courses.  Fabulous and a whole 'nother post will be needed to do it justice.

Saturday was dreary and chilly so I grilled some paninis for lunch and served them with my wheatberry salad, onion rings (so you could go either way, healthy or not) and fruit.  I have a panini press and bought little crusty loaves to split for the sandwiches and filled them with pesto frozen from the summer, provolone, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach and chicken.  I heated up Muir Glen pizza sauce for dipping.  Nice lunch.

While I was cleaning up lunch I was starting dinner.  Great day to braise beef short ribs in the oven all afternoon, so I chopped onion, celery, carrot and garlic and browned the short ribs.  I reduced some nice cabernet with the vegetables and added beef broth and more wine along with the browned ribs, bay leaves and a good shake of crushed red pepper flakes.  Everything came to a simmer and then the cover went on before I lifted my 7-quart LeCrueset oval dutch oven into a 325 degree oven.  I'm pretty sure the pan weighed 20 pounds.  Twenty pounds of savory goodness roasting all afternoon.  Mmmmmm........

The four of us walked the Arts and Design District (or as Greg and I still think of it as downtown Carmel) and came home for some gracious living.  Finally broke out the Sapore del Piave cheese from Zingerman's and I've been nibbling it ever since.  It's a hard Italian cheese made along the river Sapore in the Veneto region of Italy and aged for over a year.  A hard, nutty, sweet and salty beauty which was lovely with wine and tart apples and also nice shaved on top of grilled romaine last night for Sunday dinner.  I had on hand some smoked gouda and some chipotle cheddar to round out the cheese tray.  I heated up some favorite frozen spanikopita from Costco too for good measure.

Along with the short ribs I served some rustic mashed potatoes (leave a little skin on and mash by hand) and a bountiful crisp salad.  There's at least a month left to enjoy a warm dinner from the oven seasonally so if you find some good looking short ribs, here's an easy recipe adapted from Fine Cooking.

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

4 to 5 pounds boneless beef short ribs (the Costco ones are always good)
3 T olive or vegetable oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 C diced carrots (I love carrots this way, you can always add more vegetables if you do too)
1 1/2 C diced celery
1 1/2 C diced onions
2 whole bay leaves
1 T minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 C dry red wine
1 C beef broth (or 1 C water with one beef bouillon cube)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees setting racks to accomodate your dutch oven.

In a 7-8 quart dutch oven, heat 2 T oil over medium heat.  Season the short ribs with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper.  Add half the ribs to the post and brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes per side).  Transfer the browned ribs to a platter and brown the remaining ribs in the dutch oven.  Pour off most of the fat from the pan (or carefully use a paper towel).
Add another tablespoon of oil to the dutch oven and cook the carrots, celery and onion seasoned with a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt until softened or about 7-8 minutes.  Add bay leaves, garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about one minute.
Pour 1/2 cup of the red wine into the pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, until the liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons (2-3 minutes).  Add the browned ribs to the pot as evenly as possible in two layers and pour the remaining red wine, the beef broth and an additional 1 1/2 C of water in to the pan, mostly covering the ribs and vegetables.  Bring to a simmer.  Cover the pan and put it in the oven.  Cook, turning the ribs about every 40 minutes, until fork tender or about 3 hours.
Transfer the ribs to a serving dish.  Let the sauce and vegetables sit in the pot for a while to cool so that you can skim as much fat as possible from the surface.  Serve the ribs with the vegetables and sauce reheated until hot.
It's best to make the ribs at least several hours before serving or if possible the day before.  It is much easier to chill the entire pot overnight and remove the fat the next day.  Also, the flavors only improve with time.  If you leave the vegetables and sauce in the pot overnight, remove the fat and then reheat on the stove and reheat the ribs in an ovenproof dish for serving covered with foil in a 350 degree oven.

steaming wine and vegetables

dinner is served (browned meat pictures just aren't pretty)

Sunday brunch used up the rest of the double cherrywood smoked Applegate Farms Canadian bacon and some of the smoked gouda in a crustless quiche adapted from Epicurious.  You can use any meat, cheese or vegetarian combination you can imagine.  I whipped up some fresh toasted coconut scones from a King Arthur Flour mix (highly recommend) and served more fresh fruit.  Sure I was in the kitchen quite a bit this weekend, but nothing was too taxing and my extended family enjoyed it all which is really what it is all about.

Crustless Quiche

1/4 C panko breadcrumbs
cooking spray
1/2 to 1 C shredded smoked gouda cheese
1/2 pound diced Canadian bacon
1 T olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
8-oz. mushroom slices
10-oz package baby spinach
2 C 2 % milk
5 large eggs
salt, pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray quiche dish (I have two, round pans with straight sides one a little deeper than the other, but a pie plate will work just fine) with cooking spray.  Sprinkle panko breadcrumbs evenly over dish.  
Cook onions with Canadian bacon in a little olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Add the mushrooms, if desired and cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add fresh spinach to pan and cook until wilted, about another 2 to 3 minutes.  
Heat milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until hot, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Sprinkle shredded cheese over breadcrumbs in dish.  Top with Canadian bacon mixture.  
Beat eggs into warmed milk, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Pour mixture over Canadian bacon mixture making sure to not overflow your dish.  
Carefully move dish into the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until eggs are puffed and set and top is slightly browned.  Cut into 8 wedges and serve hot or warm.  

panko in quiche dish
Canadian bacon, which should have been cut smaller, onions, mushrooms

spinach before wilting

shredded gouda

Canadian bacon mixture next in the dish

warmed milk, eggs and freshly grated nutmeg

full quiche dish ready for the oven

all done!

ready to serve

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gracious Living

Last week was a little slow around here in the kitchen since the chef was battling a cold.  She was winning and then she took a President's Day road-trip to take her baby on a college visit and now she is not winning and the cold is firmly camped out in her head and chest.  Ugh.  Since "she" is me, it's been another week of small uncomplicated meals.  Tomorrow is my birthday and what I really wish for is the return of my sense of smell, sense of taste and appetite.  If I'm going to have cake, I surely would like to be able to taste it.  Hopefully another 24 hours and some Omnicef will make a difference (yes I know antibiotics don't cure colds, but there's a sinus infection in there too just for kicks).

Pondering the weekend and a visit from my brother, Keith and his awesome wife, Karen I am considering my menus.  Tomorrow night, to celebrate my 48th birthday Season's 52 is opening it's Indy location with a preview dinner.  My oldest is a Rhetorical Advocacy major at Purdue (comm/PR) which means she blogs and tweets on a daily basis.  One of her follower's works for a PR firm and asked her who her favorite Indy food blogger might be.  Kelly naturally answered, "My mom".  Good girl.  And that's how I am going with my plus one to the preview dinner in a semi-professional capacity.  I'm sure they would also appreciate my actually being able to enjoy all of their food so I can write a glowing review.  So I am resting.  Tonight I have teriyaki chicken poaching, sweet brown rice simmering and broccoli ready to steam.  Not every meal needs to dazzle.  And I am planning, Friday night is done.  Saturday might be a lovely opportunity to braise some beef short ribs and serve them with polenta or buttery mashed potatoes.   Sunday will bring a chance to make a brunch dish that doesn't have to hold until it reaches a tailgate.  Writing, thinking, and planning as I go.

I've never hosted just my little brother and his wife before.  We usually see each other with the whole family around.  Do you love how he will always be my "little" brother?  I make a very concerted effort to simply refer to him as my brother or my "younger" brother, but some part of me will always see him as twelve (the age he was when I left for college).   Anyway, there will be some serious "grown-up" time this weekend and I am looking forward to some gracious living.

And that brings us in my especially circuitous way to the topic of this evening's blog:  gracious living.  Gracious living is our term of endearment for social hour.  Ten years ago (yes, really ten years) we had the good fortune of moving to a home in Hudson, Ohio in the middle of a fabulous neighborhood.  We lucked on that rare combination of neighbors who also had moved a bit and were at just about the same stage of life.  Those girlfriends are the ones responsible for my love of tennis.  We all started in USA 1-2-3 together and formed a 2.5 team.  Two of my neighbors/team mates owned beautiful homes in Kiawah, South Carolina.   We spent a few lovely Mother's Day weeks on the island playing tennis all morning, lounging at the pool in the afternoon and always enjoying a little gracious living before dinner. Some gracious living sessions were so enjoyable we never made it out to dinner.  Who exactly coined the "gracious living" phrase is lost in my memory, but I love it and I've carried on as best I can as many of us have relocated one or two more times and our tennis time together has been replaced with Christmas cards and facebook exchanges.

So here are some gracious living ideas for you.  I always keep things on hand for any impromptu gatherings.  One that never fails is a block of reduced fat cream cheese topped with any amazing jam or chutney you can find.  Keep a few pretty little jars of strawberry margarita jam, cherries in hooch jam, pear hazelnut chutney or habanero roasted pineapple jam (a very good one from Archer Farms at Target).   Break out some fancy crackers and a cute spreader and you are good to go.  If it's cold out, a similar dish I love is to take a nice log of goat cheese and place it in a baking dish.  Cover it with a really yummy bottled marinara sauce and maybe a sprinkling of compatible fresh herbs and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until bubbly.  Serve with some breadsticks or baguette slices.

If you grab a nice baguette, slice it and brush both sides with a little olive oil.  Top it with a round of goat cheese and bake at 375 to 300 for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted a bit.  Or grill them.  Really yummy grilled.  Get creative and add some pieces of roasted red peppers (the jars of roasted red peppers packed in water from Trader Joe's are excellent) with goat or feta cheese.  Or use the cute little rounds of goat cheese all sliced and covered in herbs from Costco or TJ's.  Or keep some Trader Joe's bruschetta sauce and skip the cheese.  You get the idea.  A good baguette is a wonderful thing.  Salami or sopressata keep forever and the husbands generally are happier if a little meat is on the table.

gracious living at the ready

In the taking it easy mode, I'm wrapping up early this evening.  Have a piece of cake and or a glass of wine (or both) and celebrate with me tomorrow!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

olive oil cake, version 1

Quick post today before tip-off and leg one of a college visit.  Bought 6 beautiful Meyer lemons at Whole Foods last week.  Meyer lemons have an orange glow to their rind and sweeter juice than the common lemons always on hand in my refrigerator.  Found a base recipe for an olive oil cake from Giada and whipped up my first version of the fabulously moist and pleasantly citrus-y olive oil cake I purchased on my Zingerman's road trip.  My version yielded a perfect snack cake that I loved nibbling on with my tea after church, but it is not as moist and dense as Zingerman's.  So later this week version 2 might find it's way into my ovens and if I can improve on this recipe, I'll be sure to let you know.  In the meantime, I loved the toasted almonds, bountiful zest and Grand Marnier additions to this cake.  Not too sweet and a delightful crumb texture.  Improvement is unnecessary, but it's kind of a quest now.

More banter later this week, busy day ahead and a quick recipe to write.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake

1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C sugar
3 large eggs
1 T orange zest
1 T lemon zest
juice of 1 Meyer lemon
2 T Grand Marnier
1/4 C milk
3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2/3 C sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray an 8-inch cake or spring-form pan with non-stick spray.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  In a bowl of a stand mixer beat together the sugar, eggs and zests until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, lemon juice and Grand Marnier.  Slowly beat in the oil.  Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended.  Stir in the almonds.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake until tester comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Transfer to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.   Remove cake and place on a serving platter.


sugar, eggs and zests

light and fluffy

stirring in the almonds

ready for the oven

finished fabulousness

tea time!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

many meatloaves or "loaves of meat"

A little spring is in the air, almost 60 degrees here in beautiful central Indiana.  Okay, it's not that pleasing visually with the melting ice and snow leaving windblown debris and that lovely dark salty sludge behind.  A bit like the glacial moraine fields in the Canadian Rockies.  A bit, just take away the majesty of the mountain peaks, the purity of the water and the clear blue of the skies at 10,000 feet.  If you've not been to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada add it to your travel list.  Drive the Columbia Icefields Parkway to Banff and live for yourself the phrase, breath-taking.  Every turn of the road reveals a vista more stunning and literally you gasp in awe.  The crowds and tour buses in Banff rarely reach Jasper.  Hike above the alpine tree line along hanging Angel Glacier off Mt. Edith Cavell.  So amazing.
traversing glacial moraine (there is a point to these pictures)

Sara and Kelly with our tour bus on the glacier,
these tires would have been handy on my van this winter

on our Edith Cavell hike to celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2009
That's a long way from my kitchen and today's discussion of "loaf of meat", Greg's term of endearment for meatloaf.  We probably went years without enjoying meatloaf and then I found a recipe in Cook's Illustrated for a lightened meatloaf employing sauteed mushrooms to intensify the umami flavors of the meatloaf and keep it moist.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you can guess that I use ground turkey instead of ground beef.  Please feel free to use lean ground beef if you like, Cook's Illustrated does and they spend a crazy amount of time selecting ingredients.  If you substitute lean ground turkey or chicken in any recipe add a little additional olive oil.  It's a trade-off, really since the olive oil is still a fat but it is a "good" unsaturated fat.  All in moderation, my friends.  We love this meatloaf with it's smooth texture and tangy sauce.

The February/March Fine Cooking magazine features "8 delicious ways to make the best meatloaf" and this is how we went off on a little tangent and tried an adaptation of their Southwest meatloaf.  Seriously delicious.  One of the almost unlimited variations on meatloaf in an 8 page spread with a gorgeous layout and easy to follow step by step format.  Meatloaf is not that complicated, but if you learn a few tricks you can take this comfort food to a new level.

I have a great meatloaf pan.  It has an insert with holes along the bottom and space between the insert and the outer loaf pan so the meatloaf drains and does not sit in it's "juices".  Cook's Illustrated advocates placing a baking rack in a rimmed sheet and topping the rack with an 8 x 6 piece of foil with holes poked through for drainage.  You don't have to use either method, but they both make for a less greasy finished product.

Yummy Lightened Meatloaf

1-2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red/yellow/orange pepper, cored and chopped
kosher salt
10 ounces cremini (baby bella) or white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 T dried thyme
1/4 C tomato juice
2 slices hearty white bread, torn ( 1 C panko breadcrumbs as a substitute)
1 pound ground turkey, chicken or lean ground beef
1 egg
1 T soy sauce
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1/3 C ketchup
3 T apple cider vinegar
1 tsp hot sauce
2 T light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion and peppers with a 1/4 tsp of salt until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes.  Increase heat to medium high and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes more.  Add garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomato juice and cook until thickened, about 1 minute.  Cool for 5 minutes then transfer mixture to a food processor bowl.  Add bread or breadcrumbs and process until smooth.  Add meat and pulse a few times to combine.  Whisk together egg, soy sauce, mustard, parsley, pepper and 1/4 tsp salt.  Add meat mixture and combine with hands until thoroughly blended (you can just add the egg mixture to the food processor instead).  Shape mixture into loaf pan or into a loaf shape on prepared rack.  Bake until meatloaf registers 160 degrees on a thermometer, or about one hour.  Remove from oven and heat broiler.
Make the glaze by combining ketchup, vinegar, hot sauce and sugar in a small saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Spread glaze over baked meatloaf and place under broiler for about 3 minutes or until it begins to bubble.  Let meatloaf rest 10 minutes and then slice to serve.

Southwest Meatloaf

2 T olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces hearty or coarse white bread (old or stale and crusty bread is great), broken into big pieces
1 C milk
1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground turkey, chicken, beef and or pork
2 eggs, beaten
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
1-2 tsp lime zest
1/4 C chopped cilantro leaves
1 T mild chile powder or 1/2 tsp hot chile powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 T ketchup
1 T minced canned chipotle in adobo

This is going to go about the same as the first recipe.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Sautee the onion, pepper and jalepeno until softened, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and heat an additional 30 seconds until fragrant.  Let cool until just warm in a large mixing bowl.

In a shallow dish or pan soak the bread in the milk, flipping once until soggy or about 5 to 10 minutes.  Lightly squeeze excess liquid from bread.  Add to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  I've always used this method instead of just using breadcrumbs and it's worth the extra dish.

Add the meat, egg, Worcestershire, salt, zest, cilantro, chile powder and black pepper to the mixing bowl.  Take off your rings and bracelets and use your hands to gently mix all the ingredients together.
Shape into a loaf and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (use the baking pan, baking rack and foil method as above if you like) or shape into a loaf pan (the double pan with drainage as described above if you have it).

Mix the ketchup and chipotle chile together and spread across top of meatloaf.

Bake until the internal temperature measures 160 degrees, or about one hour.

I had leftover ciabatta bread in the freezer, so that's my bread of choice soaking in the milk

ground turkey, eggs, Worcestershire, salt, pepper and chile powder

now the bread, onion mixture and cilantro a little out of order getting to the bowl

a view from the top

smooshed and in the pan


on my plate with some cumin/cinnamon dusted roasted sweet potatoes
Just posted this to realize that to celebrate my 75th post I'd written about meatloaf of all things.  Too funny.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

the crumb cake recipe I never share

To mark the auspicious and awesome occasion of the Carmel High School Girls Swimming and Diving team's 25th consecutive Indiana state championship I am sharing my crumb cake recipe that I never share.  Twenty-five state championships in a row, how cool is that?  Kelly was part of the team that won championships 19, 20 and 21 so she came home to cheer on Carly, a future Boilermaker swimmer and little sister of one of Kelly's best swimming friends, Megan.

Megan and Kelly with Carmel's consecutive state trophy #21, there was one before the streak started 

Back in the day, the swim parents provided a hot breakfast buffet after practice throughout the season and my crumb cake's legend grew with every year.  Truly, only high school swimmers burn off enough calories to justify a big piece of this beauty.  All the moms would ask for the recipe and for the only time in my life I refused to share it.  I simply loved having a lock on crumb cake greatness.  My little reward to myself for all of those dark and cold fall and winter mornings of 4:20 first-calls from my alarm clock.  I would sometimes come home and go back to bed before waking up Sara, but more often I would just soldier on collecting the newspaper just as the paper boy dropped it off and reading it at the kitchen island until finding myself sound asleep sitting on a cold wooden barstool with my head on the sports section.  Good times.  Not half as amusing as the days I would go to coffee with my tennis friends and say something I might normally have wisely kept to myself, as apparently sleep-deprivation effects me about the same as two glasses of wine.  Oh, boy.  I just had to beg off coffee or make a huge effort to stay quiet.  I am not too good at staying quiet.  Side note:  maybe this is how Susan and I truly became best friends, she shared the swim parent experience and remains super tolerant of my saying whatever is on my mind.

Some favorite swim memories generally involve me being a little damp.  I failed miserably at sitting in the stands listening to all the swim gossip along with being insanely nervous.   So I grabbed my camera, got on deck and took pictures for the team.  By Kelly's junior season we bought a mac and the sweet patient Apple genius guys met with me once or twice a week until a 45-minute DVD complete with photos, movies, music and titles was born.  Back in the day there would be maybe 6 people in the Apple store and half of them were employees.  I don't know about the Apple store near you, but Kelly and I visited ours yesterday along with easily 60 other people and 30 employees.  Madness.

And so, despite the fact that a major chest cold had me so down today that my own streak (38 consecutive days of practicing hot vinyasa yoga) came to an end, I cranked out the crumb cake so I could photograph it for my blog and Kelly could take almost all of it back to the Theta house safely out of my striking distance.  It is amazing, so good luck with the willpower.

Kristin's Very Famous Crumb Cake

2 T vegetable oil
4 C flour, divided
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 C milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 C light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray 13 x 9 x 2 pan with cooking spray and dust lightly with flour (or just use the baker's ease spray with flour in it).

In a medium bowl whisk together 1 1/2 C flour, the granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a measuring cup, measure out the milk and add the egg, oil and vanilla and whisk to combine.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together until smooth.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
In a large bowl combine the remaining 2 1/2 C flour, the brown sugar and the cinnamon.  Pour the melted butter over the flour mixture and toss until large crumbs are formed.  Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the batter.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.  Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.  Generously dust with the confectioner's sugar.

Crumb cake is best stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

things I forgot (I am sick, after all): salt and baking powder

the batter

pouring into the prepared pan

flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter

ta da!  crumbs

in the oven

posing for the camera with Sara behind the lens

my piece

to go pan for the Thetas

Friday, February 11, 2011

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecakes

My valentine will be at a sales meeting in Phoenix next week, so we're celebrating a little early this year.  Friday night steaks, sauteed spinach, twice baked potatoes and little strawberry cheesecakes.  Yum.  Trust you have some fabulous ideas for your own celebration, but if you need a dessert suggestion I'm here for you.  Quite possibly I am literally here for you, because at this moment I have 10 little cheesecakes baking in my oven and if you do the math that means I'll have at least 6 leftover even if I share them with Sara and Quinn.  Maybe Purdue girl, Kelly will come home and help me out.  :)

This recipe is adapted from a Wolfgang Puck column published a few years ago in the Indianapolis Star.  I have a very fat recipe binder with plastic sleeves, those magnetic pages, punched printouts from online and divider pockets.  This page is marked with a colorful paperclip too so I can easily track down one of my favorites.  Wolfgang starts with a cooking a quick strawberry compote and in-season I use fresh strawberries, but in February frozen strawberries are half the price and perfectly suited for cooking down in a compote.  He also uses "fully-leaded" dairy products (in my kitchen, that's full fat).  I've always made this with neufatchel (or one-third less fat) cream cheese for two reasons:  1. no softening required and 2.  no difference in taste or texture and saving some fat and calories.  I know it's a dessert, but there is no difference and a little savings here and there always helps.  Do not use fat free cream cheese EVER.  Horrid.  End of discussion.  I usually employ reduced fat sour cream for the same two reasons listed for reduced fat cream cheese.  This time I actually did not have sour cream (oops) so I substituted plain fat free Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is nice and thick.  I wouldn't try this with regular yogurt unless you wanted to bother with straining it for a few hours.  I keep a big tub of Fage 0% Greek yogurt in my refrigerator at all times.  I am rather addicted to muesli with yogurt, peanut butter, honey and a banana for breakfast.  Never hungry until lunch.  Excellent.

The little cheesecakes are baked in little one-cup ramekins.  Ramekins are easy to find at Crate and Barrel, Cost Plus World Market, Pier One, Target and etc.  Inexpensive, useful and cute.

So, where were we?  Probably ready for the recipe.  Enjoy!

Strawberry-Swirl Cheesecakes

Strawberry Compote
4 cups fresh strawberries, cleaned and cut into thick slices or 1 12-16 oz. bag frozen strawberries
3/4 C sugar
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks

Spago Cheesecake Filling (adapted)
3 8-oz. packages reduced-fat cream cheese (NOT FAT FREE, please I am begging you)
1 1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 T dark rum
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs

kettle of boiling water

fresh berries and real whipped cream for garnish, if desired

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spray 10-12 one-cup ramekins with cooking spray.  Get out a big baking pan that will hold the ramekins.  You might need to use two pans.

Make the strawberry compote by combining all of the ingredients in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and just coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes.  Remove cinnamon sticks and let cool a bit.

Make the cheesecake filling in a stand mixer.  Cream the cream cheese, sugar and salt at medium speed scraping the sides and bottom as needed.  Once the mixture is smooth, raise the speed to high and beat until lightened and creamy, maybe five minutes.  You can't really do this wrong.  Add the sour cream or yogurt, rum, lemon juice and vanilla and continue beating until well-blended.  Add the eggs and beat just until combined.

Bring a kettle of water to boil.

Arrange the ramekins in your baking pan(s).  Spoon a generous tablespoon of compote into each ramekin.  Reserve leftover compote in the refrigerator until serving.  Fill each ramekin with the cheesecake filling (3/4 to all the way full, your choice).  Place the baking pans in the oven leaving the rack safely pulled out partway so you can very carefully pour the boiling water around the ramekins.  You are making a bain-marie, water bath, for the cheesecakes so they do not crack when baking.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cheesecakes begin to pull away from the sides of the ramekins and are almost firm to the touch.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven.  Know where you are taking it so you do not scald yourself with the water bath.  Carefully lift the ramekins out of the pan and place on a wire rack to cool (I have silicone tipped tongs that work great for this).  Refrigerate, covered at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge and invert onto a serving plate.  If they stick, dip the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water for 30 seconds to loosen and try again.  Or, just eat them out of the ramekins.  Nothing wrong with that presentation either.  Serve with reserved compote and a little fresh fruit, if desired.  Go all out and add a garnish of light whipped cream (you know, the real stuff in the can, Trader Joe's is good) if you have it, but for the sake of good food never serve these or anything with artificial whipped topping.  A little preachy here, but I am doing you a favor.  You are worth real food.

Happy Valentine's Day!
things I forgot to pose: yogurt, salt

compote warming up

cream cheese, sugar and salt ready to blend

compote nicely thickened

adding the eggs, rum, vanilla and lemon juice

spoonfuls of compote deliciousness in the ramekins

cheesecake filling distributed

boiling water in left hand, camera in right = very precarious kitchen situation

all done!

cooling on the rack