Saturday, March 08, 2014

Had a rough week? You need cheesecake therapy!

Despite (or perhaps because of) my long, arduous week at work, I came home and engaged in a little baking therapy. I recently ran across a recipe for...wait for it...CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE(!) that I wanted to try. Although the result was tasty, it may have been an idea that was better in concept than in execution. It has you bake the carrot cake first, cool it, then pour the cheesecake mixture over and bake again. The double baking of the cake makes it, well, overbaked and a tad dry. Moreover, the cheesecake is delightfully tender and fluffy, but the dense bottom layer makes for a dessert that is yummy, but rather unsound structurally. I can think of only two remedies for this problem. One, maybe you could freeze the carrot cake until it's very firm, then bake the cheesecake on top of it. That might help matters. Or you could bake the parts separately and then combine, which sounds dangerous, but I've done it before successfully with this laborious recipe.

If you do make this cheesecake, I recommend using a 10-inch spring form pan; a 9-inch is a little too small and all the cheesecake won't fit in the pan, nor will there be room for the sour cream topping. Also, I quadrupled the sour cream in the topping (from 2 T to 1/2 cup), and I highly recommend that you do the same, or else you will get mostly sweetness and not that characteristic tang of sour cream, which I simply adore.

Carrot Cake Cheesecake
(Source: Food Network)

Carrot Cake:
1/2 cup pecan halves, plus more, chopped, for garnish
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (2 to 3 medium carrots)

three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream (I increased this to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt

For the carrot cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread 1/2 cup of the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool, and then finely chop.

Combine the pecans, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir the carrots into the egg mixture. Fold the carrot-egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch springform cake pan and tap it on the counter to even out the batter. Bake until the cake bounces back when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. The cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the pan.

For the cheesecake: Beat the cream cheese, sour cream and granulated sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth and creamy, about five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice and vanilla, about one minute.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the carrot cake. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with a large piece of foil. Put in a roasting pan or a large baking dish and fill halfway up the sides of the cake pan with water. Bake until the cheesecake is pale yellow and just jiggles slightly in the center, about one hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Remove, run a sharp knife around the edge and let cool completely on a rack. Cover and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

For the sour cream topping: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Spread on top of the cheesecake; garnish with chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cut into slices and serve.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

(Who You Calling) Fat Tuesday

My dear friend, Janice, has been out of town a lot lately (she's teaching online classes only this semester), but she made it back to Plattsburgh just in time for us to celebrate Mardis Gras together with this FABULOUS Cajun feast that she and her daughter, Domenica, prepared for us.

Shrimp cocktail, mixed nuts, and a cocktail called Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut.

Crawfish dip with French bread, Andouille sausage slices, mixed nuts. 
The Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut (recipe to follow)
Tom sporting the requisite colors: purple, gold, and green.

The festive Mardis Gras table.



Left to right: Southern Fried Chicken over Ham, Mushroom and Potato Hash, Boiled Crawfish, and Baked Shrimp Scampi.

I forgot to photograph the desserts, but we had a king cake (of course), some Mardi Gras-themed petit fours, and a wonderful bread pudding with a very boozy rum sauce that my friend, June, brought to the party. Everything was delicious, but I think my favorite thing of all was the special blackberry cocktail that Domenica whipped up for us. 

The Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut 
(Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine)

1 1/2 oz. Camarena Silver Tequila
2 oz. brut Champagne
7 large blackberries
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1/4 oz. lemon juice
Garnish: blackberries

Muddle blackberries, agave nectar and lemon juice in a glass. Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Add tequila, shake, and strain into a large rocks glass filled with ice. Top with brut Champagne and garnish with a skewered blackberries.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

And the Best Supporting Award Goes to...SHORT RIBS!

Today is my most high holy day: OSCAR DAY! My goal was to be in my comfy chair, live-blogging undisturbed by the time the celebrities hit the red carpet. So early in the day, I started a crock pot of short ribs going. It was sort of a hybrid of a couple of my favorite recipes, and they turned out FABULOUSLY, if I do say myself--definitely deserving of a Best Supporting statuette!

Italian-Style Short Ribs

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 lbs.(more or less) short ribs seasoned with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic
2 onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 red peppers, seeded and diced
*I sometimes throw 8 or 12 oz. of sliced mushrooms in as well, if I have them on hand
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red wine
1 can tomato paste
2 tablespoons Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of hot red chili flakes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
28 oz. diced or crushed tomatoes (I used one can Italian-style, plus one can fire-roasted)
1 1/2 cups beef broth

Abbreviated methodology:
Brown the ribs on all sides, add to the crock pot. Drain off all but two tablespoons of the fat from the pan and sauté all veggies until tender. Deglaze with wine, and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, pour over ribs. Cook on high until the bones fall out (remove those as well as any big fatty/grisly bits), then cook a little longer until the meat can be pulled apart easily. Check the seasoning and serve over pasta (preferred) or mashed potatoes.

Note: As this is cooking, use a turkey baster to keep siphoning off the fat from the top of the sauce. Alternately, if you have the time, when it's done cooking, refrigerate overnight, remove the solidified fat and reheat. As a bonus, the flavors will be even better the second day!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Glazed and Confused

I was running dangerously low on my beloved Bayou Bourbon Glaze with no Tastefully Simple parties in the foreseeable future. I thought about ordering a bottle from someone on eBay, but the glaze is eight bucks a bottle--which is bad enough--and then the shipping was another seven bucks! This is always the point at which I say to myself, "Screw it! I'll make it myself!" And so I did, just like the copycat of Garlic Garlic that I produced a few weeks ago.

I consulted the ingredients on the back of the TS bottle, and began my experimentation. The first batch was mighty tasty. My roommate even said she preferred it to the original, except for one thing--too salty. So batch number two had half the soy sauce. It tasted perfect, but by the time it sat in the fridge overnight, it was thick enough to glue on roofing shingles. So I melted it back down, thinned it out with some water, and TA-DAH, it was perfect. Annnnnd...I've just saved you eight bucks a bottle! #yourewelcome

Gina's Bourbon Blast Glaze

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups water
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Tabasco (or hot pepper sauce of choice)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until thickened and syrupy, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Earlier this week, I got an email at work informing us that the dining hall at the college dorms was going to feature the culinary stylings of a visiting chef and an authentic Slovenian menu. Yeah, my first thought was, "WTH is Slovenian food and is that different from Slovakian?" But I'm always game to try a new cuisine, especially in this little white bread, Applebee's-lovin' town. So I let my Plattsburgh class out a little early tonight and hustled over to the dorms to check it out. And I'm SO GLAD I did! It was delicious (that's "okusne" to you Slovenians)!

Risotto with pumpkin seed oil and Parmesan cheese.

Sautéed vegetables: Zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, and colorful sweet peppers.

Two Slovenian soups: Chicken stew with chicken, vegetables, wine and spices (front), and one with pasta, cranberry beans, tomato paste and spices (back).

Primorska salad: Buckwheat, radicchio, asparagus spears, shrimp, and vinaigrette. (This salad was beautiful, unusual, and DELICIOUS! I am going to recreate it at home.)
Pork tenderloin with shiitake mushrooms, squash, bacon, and breadcrumbs served with a rich mushroom sauce. (Everything was delicious, but this took the grand prize, IMHO!)
Crispy haddock fillets with bread crumbs and pumpkin seeds.

Bled grmada: A light sponge cake layered with walnuts, vanilla custard, chocolate sauce, and raisins.

I thought the food was very interesting, and seemed to draw from many ethnicities; the risotto seemed Italian, the pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce felt Germanic, and the dessert definitely had a Slavic/Eastern European vibe. When I got home, I Googled up a map of Slovenia, and I saw that it is, in fact, due east of Italy, south of Austria and Hungary, and west of Croatia. Also, it has a tiny bit of coastline, so that explains the seafood elements. Fascinating!

The other thing I did when I got home--albeit a couple of days later--was to attempt to replicate the Primorska Salad. I didn't have time to stop at the co-op for buckwheat, so I swapped out some red quinoa that I steamed, crisped up in the oven, and then cooled. I blanched some cut-up asparagus spears then tossed them in an ice bath, thawed some cocktail shrimp, sliced a shallot into thin slivers, shredded some Parmesan, sliced up a few pieces of shaved prosciutto, and put all of this on top of a big pile of greens and radicchio, and drizzled everything with a Balsamic vinaigrette. Laborious, yes, but well worth the effort to put something elegant and unusual on the dinner table.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Just a bunch of stuff I had lying around...

On tonight's episode of Chopped: It was after 9pm, and we hadn't eaten dinner yet. I had a hankering for spaghetti (plus, it's quick & easy), but Cyd wanted Alfredo. So I thought, "Why not both?" So I pulled a jar of roasted red pepper Alfredo sauce and a pint of homemade tomato sauce with red wine and basil from the pantry. In the freezer, I unearthed a package of spicy sausage crumbles, and in the fridge, I found a package of Baby Bella mushrooms that was about to go around the bend on us. I sautéed a diced onion with the mushrooms, browned the sausage, added a few cloves of minced garlic, threw in some dried Italian herbs and black pepper, and stirred in both jars of sauce. Lastly, I boiled up a box of penne with ridges, sprinkled shredded Parmesan on top of the whole affair, and BOOM, faster than you could make Hamburger Helper or get Chinese delivery, we had a beautiful dish made mostly with real food. This "recipe" would be a real weeknight sanity saver! #yourewelcome

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yellow Hands, Happy Tummy

Despite a dearth of exciting food shopping in this town, one of the tiny jewels in our otherwise rusty crown is the North Country Co-op downtown--a great source of organic, ethnic, bulk, and hard-to-find foods. They also send a pretty great newsletter out monthly that has interesting articles and delicious recipes to try with local, seasonal ingredients.

This month, the item featured in the newsletter was fresh turmeric. I had never seen fresh turmeric, so I had no idea what it even looked like. As it turns out, it's in the ginger family, and resembles that type of tuber with a tough outer skin, but without the cactus-like limbs branching out from the main stem. And of course, it's BRIGHT orange inside (more on that later). It doesn't have the same punch as raw ginger, but it does have a milder flavor that perfectly complements the cabbage and chickpea curry that was featured in the co-op's newsletter. 

I pretty much followed the recipe as written, but I added one thing, some cubes of Haloumi cheese that I browned in olive oil. It makes the dish vegetarian and not vegan, but it's so yummy! It's my favorite thing to add to a vegetable curry. Also, as I alluded to earlier, learn from my mistake and WEAR GLOVES when grating fresh turmeric....unless you want to walk around with neon yellow hands the next day like I did.

Curried Winter Vegetables with Fresh Turmeric
(Source:  Marsha Lawrence, via the North Country Co-op Newsletter)
Prep/cook time = 45 minutes      Serves 6

3 tablespoons vegetable oil        
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed & cut into bite-sized chunks
2 medium onions, chopped  
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon curry powder (I upped this to one tablespoon)  
1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt            
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely shredded (I used Savoy)
1 can (15 oz) chick peas, drain    
1 can (13.6 oz) coconut milk
3-inch length turmeric root, peeled and grated
1 medium apple, peeled & cut into bite-sized chunks, optional (use for sweetness)
8 oz. Haloumi cheese, cut into chunks and browned in a skillet with a teaspoon of oil, optional

Prepare or chop ingredients as you work your way through recipe.  Ingredients above are listed in the order of cooking length.

1.  In large skillet sauté oil, potatoes and onions.  Stir and cook 5 – 10 minutes, until onions translucent.  Prepare next items while this sautés.
2.  Add in all spices except turmeric and continue to cook on medium with some stirring.
3.  Turn heat to a lower medium and add cabbage and chick peas.  By now everything should have cooked for 20+ minutes.  If not, continue cooking.
4.  Turn heat to low and add turmeric, coconut milk and optional apple.  Cover and simmer 10 -15 more minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Stir in browned cheese, if using.