Monday, July 30, 2007


Can you believe I've never posted my recipe for cheesecake? Perhaps the most favorite of all of my desserts? Shocking, I know. I realized this when my sister Michele called me on the phone today to ask me a question about my recipe. I thought, "Oh, I'll just check that on my blog." Except it wasn't here. Until now. And now I have a picture from her results.

But before I dive into cheesecake, I better tell you what I had for dinner, because it was absolutely wonderful. And easy. I bought 2 Prime New York Strip steaks from the grocery store - the Albertsons, to be precise - as well as a loaf of Pugliese, some fresh local corn on the cob, and some Romaine. We threw some charcoal on the grill, some Kosher salt on the steak, some freshly smashed garlic and butter on the bread, and put it all together. Okay, not really all together. Mark grilled the bread and the steak (to perfection, I might add, with the steak just barely medium rare), while I boiled the corn for five minutes. I also cut up a tomato from my garden and tossed it with the Romaine. All in all, it was a delicious dinner, especially followed by a few bites of that strawberry ice cream I just told you about. In fact, I would say it was a perfect summer meal.

That was quite the little digression, so let's get back to the cheesecake. I like a dense cheesecake, New York Style, that is really smooth and creamy. I also don't like cheesecakes with sour cream in them. I don't like my cheesecakes to taste sour, just creamy. In fact, I'd love to try working with mascarpone sometime, but it would be hard to stray from this recipe, as I've discovered a cheesecake that is just exactly what I want. If you make it, you will discover that it is also just exactly what you want. Don't trust me on this. You'll have to test it to be sure.

I also prefer a graham cracker crust. No cinnamon.

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake

1 1/2 c. fine graham cracker crumbs (a food processor works great, or a rolling pin over a Ziploc bag)
6 T. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar

2 lbs. Philadelphia cream cheese (don't use cheap brands, they're more sour)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 T. flour
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 c. heavy cream

Spray a 9-inch sprinform or cheesecake pan (mentioned in this blog) with cooking spray, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and most of the way up the sides. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees

For the crust, combine the ingredients and press into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared pan. If you want to keep the crust crispier, you can brush it with a beaten egg white at this point. I don't bother with that, but you can.

In a stand mixer or with an electric beater, beat the cream cheese until nice and creamy. Add the sugar, flour, and vanilla, then beat until smooth, scraping down the sides partway through. Then, one at a time, add the eggs and egg yolks, scraping the sides down and thoroughly incorporating each before moving on to the next one. After completely mixing in the eggs, mix in the cream on a low setting, as you don't want to whip the cream.

Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl and make sure one last time that the filling is consistent throughout, then pour into the crust. Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for one hour more. Turn the oven off, prop the door open just barely with the handle of a wooden spoon, and leave the cheesecake in there for 30 minutes. Remove it to a rack and let it cool completely to room temperature before unmolding.

All of these precautions, if done carefully, should leave you without large cracks in the cheesecake, and will ensure that the filling has cooked slowly, creating a very smooth texture. Just like scrambled eggs, proteins in general are creamier the slower they are cooked. I like to make my cheesecake at least one day in advance, as this gives it plenty of time to cool completely to room temperature and then to be refrigerated. It can also be covered completely and frozen, and it freezes very well. I prefer to leave the cheesecake at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving, as the flavor comes across better.

And, by the way, a half recipe is just the right amount for a 6" cheesecake.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Emily's Delight

My daughter Emily also really likes to cook. She got an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas when she was 3 or 4, and now that she's 8 (the recommended starting age for Easy-Bakes), she's moved on. Good for her. That food was disgusting! (She disagrees.)

When she was 6, Mark and I gave her a cookbook (Williams Sonoma Kids' Cookbook), measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, and a rubber spatula for her birthday. She now owns another cookbook (Williams Sonoma Kids' Baking), and I highly recommend both.

Yesterday, she found a delicious recipe on the Strawberry Shortcake website, and she made it today for a treat after dinner. Not only was it deliciously, nearly entirely made by her, and eaten in less than 10 minutes, it also seems to be a great idea for party food. So, without further delay, here is the recipe (modified from the original, as we like it) which you should try, and then comment to let Emily know what you think. Bon appetit!

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites

1 pkg. (8 oz.) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. grated lemon peel
1/2 t. vanilla extract
16 - 24 whole strawberries, depending on the size
8 graham cracker squares, finely crushed (about 2/3 cup)

In a mixing bowl, stir together cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla until smooth and creamy; refrigerate half an hour until fairly firm (or freeze about 8 minutes). Using a paring knife, hull the strawberries, being careful to remove the entire inner core. Generously fill each strawberry with cream cheese mixture. Roll tops into graham cracker crumbs. Arrange on serving platter and chill until ready to serve.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The World's Best Treat

In case you hadn't yet figured it out, there is one best possible treat. Okay, well, maybe there are two, but one of them can easily be perfected and I never get sick of them. Not even if I've eaten the entire pan myself. It is the Rice Krispy treat.

You should know by now that the Kellogg's recipe, while a good starter, is not the best way to prepare them. First of all, they call for "margarine or butter". Not even "butter or margarine". Unfortunately, not just "butter". And second of all, they're not gooey enough. Here, then, is the perfect recipe, which I created earlier this evening.

Wait, first, a note before we begin.

The brand of marshmallows does matter, as does the brand of cereal. No, I'm not just being a food snob, or brand snob, but the fewer ingredients in a recipe, the more important the quality of those ingredients. I've tried different brands of marshmallows, and the flavor is definitely lacking in the less-expensive brands. Same with the Krispies. Anyhow, you're maybe paying 40 cents more per bag of marshmallows, so I'm sure you can handle that or you wouldn't be making such a frivolous dessert. I admit the Krispies can be significantly more expensive than the cheap version, and I don't know that there is a large difference in flavor, but the texture of Kellogg's seems to be crispier and fresher. If you're really needing to cut corners, do it on the cereal, not the marshmallows, but when it comes to the best treat in the whole world, why not do it right?

Okay, here you go.

Just-Right Rice Krispy Treats

22 oz. Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows (or Campfire brand)
8 T. (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 t. vanilla
8 c. Kellogg's Rice Krispies

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9"x13" pan.

Find a really big plastic bowl that is microwave-safe (this is the easiest for cleanup afterwards). Soften the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds if it's straight out of the fridge (or don't if it's room temperature), then throw the marshmallows in with the butter and microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes to start. Remove and stir with a rubber spatula. Continue microwaving and checking on it for 30 second intervals. When the marshmallows and butter are a smooth consistency, stir in the vanilla, then the Rice Krispies. After they're stirred in completely, pour into pan. Butter your hands well and press down so the top is fairly even. Set aside to set up, about 1 hour, or throw it in the fridge for 20 minutes if you're anxious. I usually am. Cut and serve. Or don't serve and just keep them all for yourself. Splendid!

Hodge Podge

So, apparently, I now weigh nothing, since I've clearly not been eating for the last 6 months.

Okay, just kidding. Honestly, a crazy thing happened to me. While I was pregnant and then during the first 3 months of my new daughter's life, I completely lost interest in cooking. Actually, to some degree, I lost interest in good food as well. It just wasn't that exciting. I think perhaps it had some stiff competition, and then there's the whole thing about my body (and digestive system) not quite being up to par, so I really preferred to not think about what to make for dinner.

The good news is that's over.

Now, I've been thinking over the last several weeks about posting, but everytime I take a picture, it just hasn't been doing my food justice, so the only pictures in this post are going to be what I baked in my oven. Her name's Kate, and she's now 4 months old. So far, h
er food preferences just include milk, but that's bound to change over time. Emily, our 8-year old, started liking avocados at about a year, and David, who is nearly 3, likes turkey. Even when it's chicken.

Anyhow, I'm going to tell you all about the food I've been enjoying now that my head is back in the game. About a month ago, when Sockeye salmon was in season, I made this delicious salmon salad. I like to serve it on a bed of lettuce with julienned carrots, halved cherry or grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and maybe some fresh corn removed from the cob. Here's the rest of the recipe:

Salmon Salad

1 - 1 1/4 lbs. wild salmon
1 lemon
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 - 1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. olive oil
2 t. small capers, chopped
dash caper juice
dash Worcestershire sauce
dash hot sauce
2 t. fresh chives, chopped

First, poach the salmon. Season the salmon, then place it in a large, deep skillet. Add 1/2 of the lemon, juiced and sliced, and enough water to cover by 1/2". Turn the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and maintain a slight simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish, until the salmon is thoroughly cooked. That's when you see all the fat congealing at the top and the fish separates easily when you test it with a fork. After it has just reached this point, remove it from the poaching liquid and set on a plate in the refrigerator to cool. (By the way, I always want to stop at this point and just eat the salmon this way; I love cold, poached salmon.)

Next, combine the juice from the other half of the lemon with the remaining ingredients, beginning with just 1/4 c. of mayonnaise. Break up the chilled salmon into chunks and gently fold it into the dressing until consistent. Add a touch more mayonnaise if it needs it, but don't overdo it, as you want to mostly just taste the salmon. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

When serving this on a salad, dress the salad with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil before topping it with the salmon. The salmon is also be delicious on a croissant.

Just last week, I made gnocchi for the first time. (Thank you for the applause - you're so kind!) I thought it was going to be very difficult, but in fact, it was only a little difficult. And very worth it. It was a bit tricky, having never made it before, so really guessing whether the consistency of the dough was right. I think I probably made it wetter and stickier than was indicated in the recipe, but it made for a very light noodle. The other point of caution I paid attention to in the recipe from Michael Chiarello was to not overknead the dough. Overkneading can make the gnocchi tough and heavy, something I was keen to avoid. I served it with a tomato cream sauce, a recipe I have used a few times, and it was a perfect partner. Oh, and I doubled the gnocchi recipe, knowing it might be a bit of a doozy to prepare but probably worth eating two days in a row, and I was glad I did. Here's the sauce recipe:

Tomato Cream Sauce

olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. fresh tomatoes, seeded, chopped
several sprigs fresh thyme (a handful from the garden is good)
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 T. tomato paste
1 c. cream
2 T. unsalted butter
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Add the onions with a dash of salt (this helps to pull out the sugars in the onions) and saute about 10 minutes, until well-cooked and starting to caramelize a bit. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute, then stir in the tomatoes, thyme (whole), stock, and another couple pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium, cover partially, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have released their juices and the sauce is a bit thick. Stir in the tomato paste, then the cream. Bring to a boil and simmer until the cream thickens a bit (around one minutes). Remove from heat, stir in butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Just a note: this sauce is
delicious and you will want to make it at least once a month for something, especially when tomatoes are in season.

Another wonderful thing to do with in-season tomatoes is this: cut them in half (remove the top half, not a side half), remove the seeds, salt the tops of the halves, then top them with a lot of grated
Comté cheese. Roast on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a silicone mat at 400 degrees until the cheese starts to bubble and brown slightly. This is absolutely wonderful. You'll need to find a cheese shop to get Comté: it's not typically available at a standard supermarket, but it is a stupendous cheese that is creamy and nutty and slightly ripe but not at all overwhelming. In fact, I've run out, and I'm getting antsy to go buy some more just typing this up.

By the way, the reason I don't have lovely pictures of the salmon or the gnocchi with tomato cream sauce is really because nothing pink on a plate looks good in pictures, though if it's in front of you and the aroma of the dish is pulling you toward it, the plating seems much better. Don't let that hold you back. Keep cooking!