Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vanilla bean cheesecake with walnut crust

I've made this cheesecake plenty of times, but it's been a while. It was requested for a dinner in April and I figured I'd better find it sooner rather than later. I'll be making it again soon, just to make sure my technique hasn't suffered in the last few years.

from Food and Wine

1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts with 1/4 cup of the sugar until finely ground. Add the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles moist sand. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12 minutes, or until browned around the edges.
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 1/4 cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300°. In a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle or using a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at low speed with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar and the vanilla seeds just until combined. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of vanilla and the almond extract. Slowly beat in the cream until smooth. Pour the cheesecake batter into the pan and bake for 65 to 70 minutes, until lightly golden and slightly jiggly in the center.
Immediately pour the sour cream topping over the cheesecake and smooth the surface. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake for 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature. Run a sharp, thin-bladed knife around the cake and remove the ring. Refrigerate the cake for 3 hours, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spinach and Feta Puff Pastry Bites (or pies)

From: The Food Network

I made half of these as appetizers according to the instructions, and the remaining half I made into 4 larger entree-size "pies." Rather than rolling the puff pastry out into the large 12 x 24 rectangle per the instructions, I first cut it in half (much easier to work with a smaller portion). I rolled out two 12 x 12 squares - made half into appetizers, and cut the other half into 4 big rectangles.

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach
1/4-pound firm feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
2 cloves garlic, pressed
About 20 grinds black pepper
Small dash nutmeg
Flour, for dusting
1 (10 by 9.5-inch) piece of packaged puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Thaw frozen spinach in microwave according to package directions or by running under warm water. Drain spinach, squeezing the excess liquid from it. In a bowl, mix the spinach, feta, garlic, pepper, and nutmeg together.

Flour a clean, dry countertop or other flat working surface (I used a large cutting board). Lay out the puff pasty on the floured surface. Flour the top of the dough. Roll out the puff pastry until it is half as thick (about 1/8-inch) and about 24 by 12 inches (or, divide and make two 12 x 12 squares). Trim edges to size if necessary. Cut into 3-inch strips crosswise and lengthwise, making 32 (3-inch) squares. Make sure the squares are well floured then stack them in a little pile.

Fill a little dish with some room temperature water. Imagine each square you work with is separated in half by a diagonal. Place a couple teaspoons of filling in the top half. Dip a finger into the water and moisten the edges of the top half with water. Fold the bottom half to meet the edges of the top half. Use a fork to seal the edges. (For the larger rectangles, I just spooned the remaining filling onto one half of each piece of pastry, so I could easily fold the dough in half, trapping the filling into a neat rectangle).

Place finished pockets on a nonstick baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes until golden brown and puffy (Mine took about 20 minutes). Serve warm.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pancetta-wrapped pork roast

In our house, everything is made better by bacon. At least, that's the theory according to my dad and Ernie.
We didn't have any pancetta, so we used bacon instead. And a happy Christmas dinner was had by all.

From Giada

8 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) tied boneless pork loin roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine

Blend the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and oil in a small food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the garlic is minced.
Sprinkle the pork roast generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the pancetta slices on a work surface, overlapping slightly and forming a rectangle. Spread half of the garlic mixture over 1 side of the pork and between the 2 loins that meet in the center of the tied pork roast. Place the pork, garlic mixture side down, in the center of the pancetta rectangle. Spread the remaining garlic mixture over the remaining pork. Wrap the pancetta slices around the pork. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pour 1/2 cup of broth and 1/2 cup of wine into the roasting pan. Add more broth and wine to the pan juices every 20 minutes. Roast the pork until a meat thermometer inserted into the center registers 145 degrees F for medium-rare, about 1 hour. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Tent with aluminum foil and let stand for 10 minutes. Pour the pan drippings into a glass measuring cup and spoon off any fat that rises to the top.
Using a large sharp carving knife, cut the pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices and serve with the pan juices.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

From: All Recipes

One of my favorite appetizers. Mm. Bacon.

1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, halved
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut in half
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup tomato-based chili sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Wrap each water chestnut with a piece of bacon. Place the rolls seam-side down in a baking dish.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and cooked through. Drain off the grease. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, brown sugar and chili sauce; pour over the bacon-chestnut rolls. Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes.

Peppermint Bark

Yum! This was delicious, and makes a great gift. You can also just do one type of chocolate, rather than layering like this recipe calls for. A single layer would be easier, as you would not have to worry about freezing the bottom layers completely so they don't swirl when you add the top layers of warm melted chocolate. Either way, delicious.

I used this recipe for the layered bark. Here is a recipe for a single layer bark.

17 ounces high quality white chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces peppermint candy canes, crushed (this was 12 candy canes, but I think 8 would be plenty.)
7 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate
5 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Turn large baking sheet bottom side up. Cover securely with foil. Mark 12
x 9-inch rectangle on foil. Stir white chocolate in metal bowl set over
saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch
water) until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer
registers 110°F. (chocolate will feel warm to touch). Remove from over
water. Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil. Using
icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup
crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium
saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely
lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long
lines over white chocolate rectangle. Using icing spatula, spread
bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm,
about 25 minutes (I put mine in the freezer).

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water
to 110°F. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet
chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining
crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. If you let the bark go much longer than this - it will be very hard to cut neatly.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into
2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work
surface. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section
diagonally into 2 triangles. You can also just break into large chunks and enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hazelnut Biscotti

These are still baking, so I'm not sure what they taste like, but they sure smell good!

From Betty Crocker

1 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Heat oven to 350F. Spread hazelnuts in ungreased shallow pan. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Cool.

2. In large bowl, beat sugar, butter, almond extract, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed. Stir in flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in hazelnuts. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Gently knead 2-3 minutes or until dough holds together and hazelnuts are evenly distributed.

3. Divide dough in half. On ungreased cookie sheet, shape half of dough into 10x3in rectangle, rounding edges slightly. Repeat with remaining cookie dough on same cookie sheet if room or second sheet.

4. Bake about 25 minutes or until centre is firm to the touch. Cool on cookie sheet 15 minutes. Move to cutting board and cut each rectangle crosswise into 1/2in slices.

5. Place slices cut sides down on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until crisp and light brown (I turned mine once). Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, December 15, 2008

spicy chicken rub

(Ew, that sounds DIRTY, that's what she said, etc. etc.)


I am now officially Trying to Eat More Protein, so I started off by roasting a whole chicken tonight, which I have never done before. It wasn't as challenging as a turkey, and it turned out really well. I won't copy out the Bittman recipe I used because I think it's pretty basic, and also that most normal people have roasted chickens before, but here is a spice rub I found online somewhere that really made it delicious.

1/2 t of the following:
ground black pepper
dried oregano
dried basil

1/4 t cayenne

Mix with 6 T olive oil. Before baking, I rubbed it under the skin and drizzled half of it on the potatoes and parsnips and garlic roasting beside the chicken; after the first 20 minutes at the high temperature, I flipped the chicken and poured the rest of it on top. Dee-licious.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine

This was a nice change from the standard pasta dish. I served it as a side dish tonight, but it would also be good as a main dish. It was very easy and quick to throw together.

1 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat)
2 T butter
1 onion, chopped
(next time I'll add a clove or two of chopped garlic)
salt & pepper
1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream (I used evaporated whole milk)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for topping
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.
In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion (and garlic, if using) and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Return the pasta to the pot, along with the reserved pasta water, and toss. Stir in the parmesan; season with salt & pepper. Top pasta with parsley and more parmesan to serve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ellen's Hot Chicken Salad Casserole

Ok, so this is totally unhealthy, but delicious. Ellen brought this to a pot-luck lunch I attended this week. Apparently the church ladies ask her to bring this dish every time, so she never gets to make anything else. At any rate, it was tasty and she gave me her recipe. It specifically says not to use reduced fat ingredients, but I'm going to give it a try when I make it to see what happens. I'm guessing that reduced fat ingredients will probably be ok, but non-fat might not work as well. I'll report back.


4 whole chicken breasts
3 hard cooked eggs, diced (optional)
½ can condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 cup mayonnaise - (do not use light or low fat)
1 cup sour cream - (do not use light or low fat)
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
½ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 regular size can French fried onions

1. Cook chicken, remove skin and bones and cut into 1 inch pieces.
2. Mix chicken with hard cooked eggs, celery, water chestnuts and slivered almonds.
3. Mix cream of chicken soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, minced onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper together.
4. Combine the chicken mixture with the soup-mayonnaise mixture. Put in a 13”x9”x2” casserole dish. Top with shredded cheese.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Sprinkle French fried onions over top and bake for approximately 5 minutes longer or until onions are browned. Watch carefully so that they don’t burn.

Ellen's notes: I do not use hard cooked eggs when I make this casserole. This casserole can be made ahead. Bake time might need to be longer if casserole is cold.

Peanut Soup, Sengalese Style

This is from my new favorite cookbook, Mark Bittman's veg book (move over Nigella!) and I am obsessed with this recipe. No, it's not the lowest fat thing in the world but it is hearty and delicious and should very easily be able to be made in a crock pot. My problem with the crock pot is that by the time I get around to thinking about making dinner in one, it's usually too late. Oh, and this is vegan so for those of us trying to cut back on dairy, it's so yummy you won't even think about cheese.

3/4 C roasted peanuts
2 T oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced in half moons
1 T minced fresh ginger
1 T minced garlic
pinch cayenne or so to taste (I also added red pepper flakes at the end)
6 C veg stock or water
2 sweet potatoes (total of 1 lb), cut in thin half moons or small dice
1 can diced tomatoes (recipe says to reserve liquid for another recipe but I dumped both tomatoes and juice in the pot)
1/2 lb collards, kale or spinah
1/4 C chunky peanut butter

Chop peanuts into small pieces (or use food processor but don't make peanut butter by accident). In deep skillet/medium saucepan or my favorite, dutch oven, heat oil over med-high het and add onion, ginger and garlic until soft. Add peanuts, cayenne, S&P and stir in stock and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil, partially cover with lid and then turn down heat to a gentle simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (~10 min). Stir in tomatoes, spinach andPB. Cook until greens are just tender, adjust seasoning and serve. We served ours over steamed brown rice but Mark also recommends millet if you have it on hand. Frankly, almost any grain would do here. This makes great leftovers and we got a total of 7-8 servings out of it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

Geoff and I made this on Sunday, and had the leftovers on Monday, all because I was craving this dish after having a shepherd's pie tart when I was having tea with friends a few weeks ago. Awesome. If you've got leftover mashed potatoes from Turkey Day (or after Christmas in a few weeks), this is a good way to use them up.

From The Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary edition, page 102-3).

If you've used Joy before, you know that ingredients are incorporated into the recipe, rather than listed at the beginning. Like Joy, I'm putting ingredients in bold, to make them stand out a little more.

Place in a large pot of cold water over medium heat:
1-1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, peeled and quartered

Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and mash with a fork or potato ricer or masher, adding the reserved cooking water along with:
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and white pepper to taste
(we used black pepper)

Beat with a wooden spoon until fluffy. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400. Combine in a large skillet:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
(we used a bunch of baby carrots)
1 celery rib, chopped

Cook over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but not brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and add:
2 cups finely chopped cooked lamb or 1 pound raw ground lamb (we substituted ground sirloin)

If using cooked lamb, cook, stirring, until the meat begins to brown, about 5 minutes. If using raw lamb, cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until the lamb loses its pink color, 5 to 10 minutes. Spoon off excess fat. Stir in:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add:
3/4 cup beef or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of grated or ground nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste

Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a greased 9-inch pie plate or 8x8-inch baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top, making peaks with a fork. Scatter over the top:
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Bake until the potatoes are browned and the dish is heated through, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve directly from the baking dish.

Serves 4.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lidieth's Banana Bread

When we were in Costa Rica for our honeymoon, we stayed at the Arco Iris (Rainbow) Lodge near the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We had breakfast at the lodge twice. The first day I tried a slice of a dark brown quickbread, but I wasn't entirely sure what it was. It looked like a date bread, but tasted like banana. It was a really dark color, and came in small squares about 2 inches in size. It was really good. The second morning I tried it again, and decided it was definitely banana bread. I went for a second piece, but it was gone. I waited about 20 minutes to see if the cook would bring out another one. She did, and it was still hot from the oven. I grabbed 4 slices, wrapped them in a napkin and slipped out the door. We ate the banana bread later that morning on our drive to the next town. I declared it the best banana bread I had ever had, and wished I had absconded with the whole loaf. A few weeks ago I emailed the Arco Iris Lodge and begged them for the recipe. I told a sappy story, pleaded my case, it was our honeymoon, yada yada, and literally begged for the recipe. I got a quick response saying the recipe is on their website. Doh.

So I tried it tonight. It wasn't the perfection that we had in Costa Rica, but it was tasty. I will definitely make it again. I thought it needed a little something, perhaps a dash of salt. Given the list of ingredients, I wasn't sure it would turn the dark color that we had in C.R., but it did. The recipe calls for a standard loaf pan. I made two mini loafs, and I think the batter could have filled 3. It puffed up way over the top of the mini loafs. I think if I would have made it in 3 or 4 of the mini pans, it might have turned out like the small darker squares that I had in C.R. So, long intro aside, here's the recipe. :)

1½ cups flour
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
5 med sized VERY ripe bananas
1 tbsp butter
½ to 1 cup sugar (raw cane or Demerara recommended)
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla


Grease a standard loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
Sift together the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
Mash the bananas.
In a separate bowl, soften the butter with an electric mixer.
Mix in the sugar and then add the beaten egg and vanilla.
Combine with mashed bananas.
Pour into the flour mixture and blend well.
Pour into greased baking tin and bake for 45 mins – 1 hour.

* I used turbinado sugar, which I understand is the same as Demerara but just smaller crystals. I baked the 2 smaller loafs for about 45 minutes.