Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Did Someone Say Cheesecake?

Everyone has that one magical dish, that one thing in their culinary arsenal that they love the most above all of their other dishes. Maybe it is a pie recipe passed down from generation to generation, or the first REAL food you made after leaving home. For me, it is the first thing I learned to cook that was more complicated than scrambling eggs. That one magical dish, my friends, is cheesecake. When I was younger, I wanted to learn how to bake something with lots of ingredients and that might one day have the potential to be on par with the wonderful pies my father makes. So my mother found a recipe for us to try, a recipe aptly named The Ultimate Cheesecake, and with that I found my magical dish. That first cheesecake was pretty good, but there was plenty of room for improvement. Since then, I have made a few adjustments, and I think I have about got it right.

So last week I go talked into making one of my cheesecakes for a baby shower my fiance was attending, and decided to try something I haven't made before and made a lime flavored cheesecake for the event. There was a little bit of trial and error; we had a disastrous trial run with a sugar cookie crust that caused me to have to scrap the whole operation and start again from scratch. After that, we were off and running, and came out with a delicious, sweet and slightly tangy cake that was a hit at the baby shower. Here's what we came up with. Have fun with it.

Lime Cheesecake

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

5 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup (more or less, to taste) fresh squeezed lime juice
2 Tablespoons lime zest (more or less to taste)

Crust: Preheat oven to 375 deg. In a bowl, use a fork to mix graham cracker crumbs and sugar with the butter until moistened. Pour into 10 inch spring form pan. Using fork and your fingers, press the mixture evenly over bottom and sides of the pan. The crust should reach the top of the pan. Bake for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Filling: Increase oven temp to 450 deg. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat sugar, flour, vanilla and cream cheese until blended. It will help immensely if you start cutting up the cream cheese with a rubber spatula before moving to the mixer. Beat in eggs and egg yolks one at a time, waiting until each egg is beaten in before adding the next. Beat batter until smooth. Beat in cream. In small increments, add the lime juice and lime zest to the batter. Taste batter as you go and make adjustments with the lime juice and zest as needed. For a better texture, fold the batter for a few minutes with a spatula, letting more air into the mix. The lime juice may make the batter thin, but it will cook and set just fine. It just may take a few extra minutes in the oven.

Pour filling into prepared pan, bake for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 250 deg. Bake one hour, or until center is set but not firm. Use a toothpick to test the center of the cheesecake and make sure it is not liquidy. Remove to cool on a rack for about an hour. Place cheesecake in the refrigerator over night for the best results.

When you are about ready to serve the cheesecake, sprinkle the top with lime zest and ring the edge with lime wedges. ENJOY!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Healthy Living

After this weekend with a diet consisting of mainly sugars, starches, and of course, Madelines, I was feeling a bit sluggish and in need of a lean and healthy meal with loads of veggies. I love Ahi Tuna, both raw and seared, and wanted to give the latter a go as I have no earthly clue how to make sushi. Really, those guys are magicians. Magicians with really sharp knives. So while at the local grocery store looking for things to serve my seared tuna with, I put together an assortment of mixed greens, chives, bok choy, red cabbage, garlic, and a green apple. The recipe was lacking something, though; maybe something sweet like mandarin oranges to offset the bitter bok choy and the salty soy sauce. The tuna was great, but the whole dish just needed something. So this is shot number one for seared ahi tuna on a bed of mixed greens.

1 Ahi Tuna steak
Mixed Greens salad
1/4 head red cabbage
1 Granny Smith apple
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 bundle of chives
1 bundle of bok choy
soy sauce
sesame seeds
sesame oil

Blanch the bok choy and set to the side to drain. Chop apple into bite sized pieces, and chop chives into small bits. Toss both in a bowl with the mixed greens. Chop the cabbage into medium sized chunks and toss into salad. Slice the garlic thin, set to the side. On a small plate, marinate the tuna lightly in soy sauce and sprinkle a few sesame seeds on both sides.

In a hot skillet, add a couple of glugs of sesame oil and a small handful of sesame seeds. Add garlic slices. As this begins to sizzle, place the tuna steak in the middle of the skillet. Flip as soon as the side begins to brown. Once both sides are lightly browned but the middle still red, remove from heat and move to a cutting board. Slice tuna steak into thin strips, as thin as your knife will allow.

Chop bok choy in half, removing the leafs from the stalks. Chop the stalks into chunks and the leafs shreds, and add to salad mix. Remove the garlic slices from the skillet and mix into the salad. Place some salad onto a plate, and arrange the slices of tuna over the top. Add a dribble of a sesame seed dressing; a favorite of mine is Newman's Own Sesame & Ginger dressing.

Like I said, the recipe needed something, preferably something sweet. Until I find it, the recipe remains incomplete. The tuna was great, but the salad needed something to counteract the slightly bitter greens. Next time, we'll get it right.

Courtney's French Madelines

This weekend we had a visitor to our small apartment in the fog. My fiance's-mother's-friend's-daughter, Courtney, came to stay with us for a couple of days and escape the ragged heat of Sonoma County. Young Courtney is ten, so we got to take part in some fun kids stuff like checking out the Exploratorium, watching silly movies, and of course, cooking sugary treats. Before she came down the The City, Courtney mentioned that she liked to bake, so we looked through a few cookbooks and thought about what to make. Then, Courtney said she had never had a Madeline. Well, then, it was settled. Madelines it was. These sweet, buttery cakes are pretty easy to make, take very few ingredients, but are very delicate and need constant attention. Just a few minutes too long in the oven and they are toast. Literally.

Our little friend Courtney did all of the measuring and mixing, and we took care of anything involving sharp objects or hot scalding liquids. Once the batter was made, we greased the Madelines pan, and spooned in the batter for our first batch. Now, if you have never made Madelines before, (and this could be true of any cookie or small cake) you may want to burn the first batch intentionally. Because its gonna happen anyway. But if you do it on purpose, you can at least know how long it takes to get there and know when to pull them out the next time. Or just never take your eyes off of them. That might work too. So here it is, the recipe for Courtney's first French Madeline.

4 eggs
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. melted butter (yes, that's right, 1 1/2 cups. That is 3 sticks of delicious, creamy butter.)
1 tbsp. vanilla
Confectioners' sugar

Start butter in the top of a double boiler and melt. Set aside to cool. Stir eggs and sugar into top of double boiler until creamy and lukewarm. Remove from heat and beat until cool; add flour gradually, mixing well. Fold in butter and vanilla.

Use special shell-shaped Madeline molds that have been buttered and floured (or small 1 1/2 inch muffin pans). Fill molds 2/3 full; fill muffin tins less than 1/2 full. Bake in a 425 degree oven for ten minutes or until lightly browned. The exposed tops should be white or light brown, but solid. If you are still unsure, use the edges of the cakes as a gauge: The browner the edges, the browner the soft shell-shaped bottom. Be careful, they burn fast. Dust cooled tea cakes with powdered sugar. Yield: 4-5 dozen.

For a tasty addition, peel two peaches or another slightly over-ripe fruit you may have in your fruit bowl, chop into chunks, and toss into the food processor. Puree'. Spoon in 4 - 5 Tbs. of sugar and mix. Serve the Madelines with the puree'.

We had a lot of fun mixing, spooning, burning and eating these wonderful little cakes and I am glad that Courtney got to try them for the first time with us. Thanks, Courtney, for helping me make one of my favorite treats. I hope you liked them as much as I do.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Continuing on my pastry-fueled odyssey into the untamed world of baking, I tackled two new recipes to make my taste buds and tummy happy. First, for breakfast, I wanted to make a sweet pastry to enjoy over coffee. So after somehow waking up at 7am on a Sunday morning, I set about making some Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Muffins. The recipe, as with most pastry, is pretty basic: Eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Just remember kids, when combining ingredients, please make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature. Melted butter and cold milk straight out of the fridge don't mix together very well. Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients seperately before combining, and always add the star of the show, in this case the chocolate chips, at the very end.

Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 cups flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar - no lumps
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter
2 whole eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet choc chips

Mix all liquid ingredients together. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, except for chocolate chips. Mix.
Add chocolate chips last and put into muffin tins.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

For the main event, I tried something that has always intimidated me as a cook, even though it is such a basic staple in all of our diets. Bread. French bread, to be exact. Please don't be fooled by its unassuming appearance: bread takes a long time to make. At least a lot longer than those muffins we made earlier. After scouring the internet for a good french bread recipe, I decided to combine a few of the better ones I found, and ended up making some pretty damn good bread. I enjoyed my first loaf of french bread with a HUGE heirloom tomato chopped up and seasoned, along with fresh cheese and butter all purchased at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market.

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cups flour
2 tablespoons dry yeast (2packs)
cornmeal (for dusting baking sheet)
1 egg, beaten lightly

Pour warm water into a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and yeast. Mix until dissolved, and let sit for about 10 minutes as the yeast activates. Wisk in oil. Add 3 cups of flour and mix until combined. Mix in the last 3 cups of flour until all of the dry flour is combined in the dough mass. It should look something like this:

Cover the bowl with a towel, and set in a warm, humid place. For this, I heated a pot of water to just below boiling, put the pot of water on the bottom rack of the oven and the bowl of dough on the top. Leave the dough for about 2 hours as it rises, to about double its original size. About like this:

Knead the dough on a flour-covered surface for about 5 - 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal sized balls, set each dough ball in its own bowl, lightly greased with vegetable oil. Put the two bowls back into the oven with the warm pot of water. (You will probably need to reheat it.) Let the dough rise for another 2 hours. After the dough has risen for the second time, you can wrap one ball in plastic wrap and freeze. Put the second dough ball on a flour dusted surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Stretch and roll out into a rectangle, about 9x12(ish). Starting from the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough up like a jelly roll, and pinch the ends closed. Pat the dough into a loaf shape, like so:

Cover the loaf with a towel and let it sit for about 1/2 hour to an hour. It will rise more, but not substantially. Sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal. With a sharp knife, cut 3 diagonal slits across the dough, and brush lightly with the beaten egg. Put loaf in a 400 degree preheated oven. Remember that bowl of hot water? Keep it in there. The moisture will help the bread develop a crisper crust. Cook for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Voila:

I would once again like to thank my friends at Bakespace.com for the delicious muffin recipe.