I Am Such An Idiot!

Errrgh! I hate it when I miss something completely simple. For example,  I lost the password for the Daring Baker site and couldn’t log in and was completely blind to the little ‘reset password’ thingy.  So I missed a challenge, which was cheesecake and similar to the one I made for Easter. Bah! I feel like I need a reset button for my brain. I have been so scattered this month and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to a vacation to the beach.

But at least I can remember how to bake a cake and this one was good. Very good. It’s very simple too. Plain white cake made in two layers, sliced to make four layers. Sweetened whipped cream with chopped mango folded in. Blackberries added to just the middle layer of filling. Covered with sweetened whipped cream with a hint of almond extract. Very light tasting and refreshing, it was a hit with everyone who had some. It was better than this poorly lit night kitchen photo makes it appear. 😉

I Could Be Converted

Despite the fact that I’ve been on something of a cheesecake kick in the last couple of years, I’ve never been a big fan of cheesecake. I’ve made Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Marbled Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Ganache, and Mint Chocolate Cheesecake. Although some people raved about the taste of them, I was fine if I didn’t get any. I think it was only the Turtle Cheesecake that could have made me a convert, but there was enough chocolate and caramel to not dwell on the cheesecake much. Still, I often make a cheesecake at Easter and this year was no exception.

I decided I wanted something slightly different but wanted to serve it with fresh fruit so I didn’t want an overpowering flavor. I went with Meyer lemons (Meijer Meyer lemons, as I noted when someone asked where to find them!) It wasn’t until after I had already started mixing my typical cheesecake mixture that I wondered, “What would Dorie do?” so I pulled down my Baking book and, sure enough, she talks about cheesecake, even lemon. She adds sour cream and/or whipping cream to her batter and bakes it differently than I have done in the past (in a hot water bath rather than just a pan of water on the rack beneath it) and for much longer. I decided that I would give this a go. Although I may have been a little hesitant to try new methods on such a big day, I trusted Dorie to not lead me astray.

I think one of the failures people have with making cheesecake is not allowing it to beat long enough. I’ve had several people tell me they still have lumps of cream cheese in their batter and I always encourage beating until smooth and creamy. I was pleased to note that Dorie recommends beating the cheese for 4 min and another 4 min after the addition of the sugar, as well as a full minute after the addition of each egg. Talk about smooth and well aerated!

For the baking, I wrapped the base of the springform pan with two layers of Al foil and then placed it inside my 13 inch cast iron skillet and poured boiling water into the skillet until it reached 1/2 – 2/3 up the side of the springform pan. Dorie has you bake the cheesecake in this manner for 1 1/2 hours and then leave it in the bath for another hour with the oven turned off and the door propped open with a wooden spoon. By the time I finally opened the oven door, there was little to no water left in the water bath, so I’m not sure how much benefit it actually had from that. My greatest disappointment was in how brown the top was, not at all like the creamy white cheesecake pictured in the book. I think in the future I would cover the cheesecake with a loose foil tent to prevent browning. Since I wanted to serve it with fresh fruit, I just used that and some whipped cream garnish to masque the brown top.  (The sides were creamy white, I didn’t cut anything off — the lines you see on the sides below are from running a hot knife around the sides to slip it from the springform pan.) But the texture! Ooooh, man, did this cheesecake have perfect texture! This could convert me to being a cheesecake lover.

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Fresh Fruit (most of the directions come from Baking, pp. 235-237)

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 c. melted butter

Stir together ingredients. Press into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F. for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool while mixing the cheesecake.

4.5 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1 1/3 c. vanilla sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

zest and juice of Meyer lemon

1 c. whipping cream

In a larger mixing bowl, beat cream cheese at medium speed until soft and creamy (about 4 min). Add the sugar and salt and continue to beat for another 4 minutes or until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition. Add the zest and juice of lemon. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the whipping cream.

Cover the base of the springform pan with two layers of aluminum foil. Place the pan inside a larger pan. Pour the batter into the springform pan. It should reach nearly to the rim of the pan. Place the pans in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the outer pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top should be browned and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open with a wooden soon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lifte the spring form pan out of the outer pan — be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil — and remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

I decorated mine with fresh fruit and sweetened whipped cream about 12 hours after it was baked and about 12 hours before it was served.

Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day In Deuces!

How did we get so lucky? In the last HHDD event (the wonderful tribute to Donna Hay facilitated by Bron Marshall) there were two winners, so each selected a recipe for twice the Donna Hay pleasure (and even in two languages)! Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (perfect blog title!) chose a chicken satay for us, while Tartasacher of Mil Postres (thousand desserts, I love it!) selected a lovely grilled fruit with yogurt. It was the perfect pair for our lunch today.

At our house, anything that screams ‘Meat On A Stick’ sounds like a winner. I tweaked the Donna Hay recipe slightly to match what I had in the kitchen and it turned out so perfectly I’m afraid the kids will ask me to make it again and I won’t be able to repeat it! Tartlet 1, who naturally tends toward carnivorous behavior, ate *six* skewers of meat (seriously, that’s as much as pictured above!). Instead of cashews I used pistachios and I added some grated lime rind to the marinade, giving the resulting skewers an odd green tinge that wasn’t entirely appetizing at first look, but the taste was wonderful. My other modifications were minor. Thank you Meeta for choosing a winning recipe that is sure to be repeated in our house.

For the grilled fruit and yogurt, I had intended to make something slightly different but the bottle of nutmeg that I *know* I purchased this week could not be found. No doubt someone will find it in the potato bin next week or in the drawer with yogurt cups or something absurd! Instead I used the cinnamon as called for in the recipe but found other ways to make it unique.

Because I was using my homemade yogurt, made this time with whole milk, rather than a thicker commercial yogurt, I didn’t mix it with cream. I added the sugar and cinnamon and then grated some orange rind into the bowl, not bothering to clean the grater after the lime I had used in the chicken marinade, so there were bits of lime zest also. It had a lovely flavor. The kids who thought they weren’t going to like this dessert at all were practically licking their plates to get the last drops!

The sugar grilled fruit would work fabulously for dessert for two, but was a bit more time consuming for six. I was using a smallish pan and opted to only clean it after every two batches rather than after each one. I was also finding the sugar was not adhering symmetrically to the fruit so after a couple of batches I started just sprinkling some sugar in the bottom of the pan, placing the fruit slices on top, and sprinkling the tops with a little more sugar. That worked very well for me. I chose two varieties of apples — Jazz (oh, YUM!) and Pinata (not as spectacular but good), pears, and peaches for my fruit. Although I originally chose those because I like them with nutmeg, they also work fabulously with cinnamon and orange. As I said, we were all scraping up the last bits of our dessert today. Thank you, Tartasacher, for a fabulous simple dessert that the kids have already requested that I not only make again, but teach them to make also!

Recipes after the jump. Continue reading

Fruit: It’s Not Just For Dessert

I know it seems like we just dine out or eat desserts all the time around here, but, honestly, we do eat other things! 😉 I bought a new Foreman Grill just before Christmas and have used it several times already. Most recently, I used it to grill a large flat of boneless chicken breast. Because I was serving it with BBQ sauce initially, I did not season it all before grilling it. After dinner and a lunch of leftovers, there were two chicken breasts left — not enough for the whole crew for lunch by itself, but, by turning it into chicken salad, I had enough leftovers for another lunch for myself the next day! A perfect way to stretch out the menu. This wasn’t made from a recipe, but from simply tossing in this and that, whatever was on hand.  It’s a little bit of summer to shake the winter blues.

Chicken Salad
2 grilled boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 apple (Jonagold in the picture), cored & chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/3 – 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/3 – 1/2 c. dried cranberries
1-2 Tbsp. finely minced onion
2 Tbsp. low-fat mayo
1/4 c. (or more, depending on your taste) Ranch dressing (mine was made by mixing a dry packet with plain yogurt)

Toss all ingredients until well mixed. Great plain, on a sandwich, or on a bed of greens.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

I mentioned before that I made muffins for the Ladies’ Retreat I attended.  Because I didn’t want to offer a dull breakfast selection, I made some sweet muffins: Banana Muffins, both plain and with chocolate chips, Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, and Lemon Blueberry Muffins, as well as some savory muffins: Bacon Cheddar Muffins and Ham and Swiss Muffins. These muffins straddle the fence on sweet and savory.  The cheese makes you think savory while the pear lends a light sweetness, neither is overpowering and they complement each other nicely.

The original recipe called for 1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice but since I didn’t have that, I used a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves, and used more than the amount called for. I made a double batch and used some of the extra batter to make a mini loaf of bread. I hate it when a muffin recipe doesn’t come out evenly at 12 because I don’t want to have to bake a partial tin. The mini-loaves are a perfect way to deal with a little extra batter.

Pear Cheddar Muffins (adapted from The Muffin Cookbook)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. cloves
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

2 medium pears, pared, cored, cut into large pieces
1 c. milk
2 large eggs
1/4 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare muffin tin with paper liners or non-stick spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices; stir in cheese. In a blender or food processor, process pears, milk, eggs and butter until pears are finely chopped. Pour pear mixture into flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Spoon into prepared muffin tin. Bake 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Makes 15 muffins.