Cheese


Recipe from my aunt, perhaps available somewhere here.

Cheesecake. I know, so eighties. This one, however, knocked my socks off. I recently visited my beloved aged aunt in New Jersey. Age has not diminished her cooking. She’s the kind of relative whose food turns out to be as good in your adulthood as you remember it being in your childhood. I probably acquired my love of cooking from her.

If anything is responsible for the cheesecake’s fall from favor, I attribute it to the graham cracker crust. A shortbread bottom crust sets this cheesecake apart from all others I’ve eaten. The cake is creamy and light. The shortbread base stays firm to the cut of a fork. This recipe will make you nostalgic for the luscious sort of cheesecake that we all used to make in the ’80s.

Make this recipe the day before you plan on eating it:

Equipment:

1 (3-inch deep) 9-inch springform pan

a 10×15-inch jellyroll pan

Cheesecake base:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measure cup and level off)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:

1 pound (16 oz) cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1 (16 oz) sour cream

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of the springform pan and line with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside.

Shadowcook: I took this to mean: cut a circle of parchment or wax paper and place over the round buttered bottom of the springform pan.

To make the base, beat together the butter and sugar by hand until light and fluffy. Beat in the yolk until smooth. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. With a rubber spatula, gently fold into the butter mixture. The mixture will be crumbly.

Shadowcook: You’ll probably have to gather it into a ball of dough with your hands. It will easily fall apart. Don’t overwork it. Remember, this is a crust that does not go up the sides of the cake.

Place the dough in the pan and use your hands to pat it down evenly and firmly over the bottom. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and baked through. Transfer to a rack and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To make the batter: In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on the lowest speed just until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Add the sugar in a stream, mixing for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape again. Add 1 cup of sour cream and mix only until it is absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining sour cream. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed; stop and scrape after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Shadowcook: I suspect the reason for Malgieri’s insistance on underbeating rather than overbeating is that the cake is less likely to set firm during the baking the more you beat the batter. So, even if there are lumps, err on the side of underbeating the batter.

Wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan so it comes at least one inch up the sides. Pour the batter into the pan. Place the pan in a jellyroll pan or roasting pan and pour warm water into the pan to a depth of 1/2-inch.

Shadowcook: I used my big rectangular pyres baking dish and I poured in boiling water around the cake pan higher than 1/2-inch.

Bake the cheesecake for about 55 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from the oven and lift the cheesecake out of the hot water. Remove the foil and let cool completely on a rack. Wrap the cheesecake and chill overnight.

Shadowcook: Expect some condensation to form under the surface of the wrap.

To unmold the cheesecake, run a knife or thin spatula around the inside of the pan pressing the knife against the pan, not the cake. Unbuckle the pan side and lift off. Leave the cake on the base, or run a spatula under the cake base and slide the cake onto a platter.

Shadowcook: A few hours before serving, I roasted about 2 cups of hazelnuts in a 350 F oven. While they were still warm, I put the nuts in a tea towel and rubbed them vigorously to get the skins off the nuts. Then I took a kitchen mallet and crushed them into pieces. Using a long, thin spatula, I applied the crushed nuts around the side of the cake. Then I put the cake back in the refrigerator to set.

DSC04559

from Outstanding in the Field: A Farm to Table Cookbook, p.42.

I gasped when I saw them. In the Co-op’s cheese section, I saw a basketful of individually-wrapped burrata cheeses. Not domestic. From Italy (and the price reflected its distant provenance). Despite all the time I’ve been in Italy — in Venice, mainly, which might explain it  — I’d never noticed or come across this luscious glob of cheese that Denevan describes as “a thin sheath of mozzarella stretches to enclose a velvety center of ricotta-like cream and mozzarella threads.” Of course I bought one.

Denevan’s recipe is a purist’s delight. Six ingredients combined in their simplest form. Delicious. Devine. My only comments are on the ingredients.

Serves 6

Shadowcook: HA! Six servings my fanny. Even someone hyperconscious of portions would be skeptical. More like four servings or even three.

1/4 cup shelled hazelnuts

2 ripe nectarines

Shadowcook: I used a small ripe peach for myself.

3 to 4 ounces mâche

8 oz burrata cheese (1 small or 2 large balls), at room temperature

Shadowcook: Denevan notes in his introductory paragraph to this recipe that it’s best at cool room temperature, which is to say keep it in the fridge until you’re ready. I liked it cool.

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Shadowcook: Get out your fruitiest kind.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until they are fragrant and their skins loosen, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a plate and let cool slightly. Rub the hazelnuts in a folded kitchen towel to release their skins. Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.

Cut the nectarines in half and remove the pits. Slice the fruits into thin wedges. Wash the mâche in a sink filled with cold water. Carefully remove any dirt or sand stuck between the leaves and discard any root ends. Dry the mâche in a salad spinner.

Cut the burrata into 1/4-inch slices; because it is very soft, it might be easier to slice with a serrated knife. Arrange the cheese on 6 chilled salad plates. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

In a medium bowl, toss together the mâche and the nectarines with the remaining olive oil. Season with salt. Arrange on top of the burrata. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and serve.

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by way of In Style magazine, June 2009, p. 222.

Just as I learned in Italy to eat pizza with a fork, so, too, I learned to eat watermelon with a fork in Greece. Years ago, one of the highlights of visiting in-laws in northern Greece was the sweet, thirst-quenching karpouzi, or watermelon, that we found in the markets. Eating it with a fork makes it even more enjoyable. In the same period, I learned to pair watermelon with a slab of feta cheese. The sweeter the watermelon, the sharper and brinier the feta. I get nostalgic just remembering the hot weather and a white ceramic plate with a piece of red melon and white cheese.

In a recent issue of In Style, which I encountered at the hair salon, I came across this recipe, concocted, so the one-page feature indicated, by Hugh Acheson of the Five & Ten in Athens, Ga. How appropriate. Never been there, but the chef came up with an interesting combination of flavors. Now that I’ve made this once, I’m convinced that it’s a good combination — provided you know your ingredients well. For instance, next time I won’t use the creamy French feta I buy at the co-op. I’ll try another, sharper tasting one. And the watermelon really has to be sweet and the arugula young and not bitter. I would increase the amount of lime, although I approve of the bright blast supplied by the champagne vinegar. The thyme — I might leave it out.

Here’s how it appears in the magazine:

Serves 6

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 small shallot, minced

1 serrano chile, stemmed and sliced into small half rounds

salt to taste

1 small seedless watermelon

1/3 lb wedge feta cheese, sliced 1/8″ thick (about 12 slices)

1 bunch arugula

Sliced serrano chile for garnish

1. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, thyme, shallot and serrano chile. Shake well. Season with salt to taste; chill in refrigerator.

2. Remove rind from watermelon and slice flesh into 3″ squares.

3. To assemble salad, layer one piece of watermelon on one piece feta. Repeat. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with arugula and sliced serrano chile.

dsc04096from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe, p. 83.

This recipe I just don’t get. The combination of ingredients engaged me immediately, but it didn’t work — for me. I don’t know if the problem lies in the character of the recipe or in my execution of it. Admittedly, when I cut down recipes to proportions for one person, the balance is thrown off, but not usually this much. I would really like help here. Someone else should take on this job and see if he or she can make this delectable-sounding recipe sing. It’s worth the try. I certainly didn’t have a bad dinner. But I’m not sure what the point was of bringing these particular ingredients together.

Gray and Rogers enticed me thusly:

Rigatoni 16 oz

Savoy cabbage 1/2

Fontina 5 oz

Potatoes 7 oz

Garlic cloves 2

Anchovy fillets 6

Dried chiles 2

Parmesan 2 oz

Nutmeg 1/2

Unsalted butter 1 stick

Peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick disks. Peel and slice the garlic. Rinse the anchovies, crumble the chiles, and grate the cheeses and nutmeg.

Remove and discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut into eighths and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, then chop.

Melt half the butter in a thick-bottomed pan, add the garlic, and fry until soft. Add the anchovies and stir to “melt.” Add the chiles, grated nutmeg, and the cabbage.

Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente, adding the potatoes after 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 3 Tblsp of the water. Add the pasta and potatoes to the cabbage and stir in the remaining butter. Add the fontina and a little of the pasta water. Cover for 1 minute to allow the cheese to melt into the sauce. Serve with Parmesan.

Now that I’ve cooked and typed this recipe in…

I’m convinced someone was utterly asleep at the wheel when they wrote and edited this book. Odd, because the sloppiness of this recipe is not typical of the other recipes in this volume. First of all, the imprecision of the amounts is maddening. I find it hard to believe that savoy cabbages in the UK are of uniform size. Here in the U.S., the size of cabbages vary widely. Why do I even have to make that point, it seems so obvious? So, just how much is enough? In the end, half of the small globe I bought at my co-op was too small.

Next. “Nutmeg  1/2.” What does that mean? Can they seriously mean I should grate half a nutmeg into this dish? I have to assume this is a typo. But even if this means half a teaspoon, that’s a hell of a lot more nutmeg than most recipes call for. Therefore, I decided to eyeball it. For two portions, 1/8 tsp maximum.

Dried chili flakes worked fine. I intend to add more next time — if there is a next time.

Like the other recipes in this book, the directions include instructions to prep the ingredients before cooking. I like that, although I usually organize myself in that way whether the instructions include prep or not. I wish, however, that the list of ingredients was in the order of execution. Parmesan comes before nutmeg, but not in the instructions. I re-read them a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Don’t pour the water out with the cabbage. Use a wire-mesh “spider” to fish the cabbage out of the water. It might have occurred to the authors that the pasta would have benefited from cooking in the cabbage water.

If the pasta you use calls for 12 minutes cooking, drain it and the potatoes (which you’ve added after 6 minutes) at 10-11 minutes. Then let it cook to completion during the one minute it’s simmering with the cheese and pasta water.

You’re going to need salt. No two ways about it. This is a seriously underseasoned recipe.

IF I made this again…

I would use more cabbage, anchovies (completely lost), chilies and salt. Odd that the fontina in the end stood out more than the anchovies.

And, finally, CRUCIAL: warm the bowls you’re serving the pasta in in the oven. It makes a big difference to all food, but especially this dish.

I DO NOT understand the potatoes. They added nothing.

Now that I’ve written this, I think this is a recipe that requires a high-wire act of balance. Maybe if I got the proportions exactly right — and left out the potatoes — this might produce the interesting combination of flavors that my first hunch told me it would be. But it will certainly take a bit of tweaking.

dsc00010.jpgLast night, standing in the street outside the home of friends after a delicious dinner of chops from local lamb, I told Jaana that it was time for Shadowcook to take stock of her calories. As soon as I got home I signed up once again for the only eating plan that makes sense to an obsessive person like myself: Weight Watchers Online. I’ll be counting points and calories for the duration. That should not be taken to mean an end to my blogging. It means only that for the next while I’ll be trying to create meals that stay within my week’s allotment of points. A boring change for some; a welcome change for others. However, since I’m soon leaving for a week in New Orleans, where I have reservations at three of the city’s finest restaurants, I promise it will not be dull.

Michael Pollan is my guide these days. He says, Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants. That prescription suits my mood to reduce. This recipe comes from Epicurious. I overlooked it when it appeared in the January 2007 issue of Gourmet. Swearing it was the best salad she’s had in ages, Patrice brought it to my attention. Finally I made it and got the point. It’s the best example of a simple, delicious salad I’ve encountered in a long time. For the WW Counters out there, each serving is worth 2 points.

As it appears in the magazine:

Serves 6.

3/4 to 1 lb lacinato kale (also called Tuscan kale) or tender regular kale, stems and center ribs discarded

2 T finely chopped shallots

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

4 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 oz coarsely grated ricotta salata (1 cup)

Working in batches, cut kale crosswise into very thin slices.

Whisk together shallots, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well.

Toss kale and ricotta salata in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat well, then season with salt and pepper.

How I now do it:

First of all, I never make this salad with anything but lacinto kale, known also around here as dino kale. Use a pound of kale. It’s just too good. I chopped the kale almost like chiffonade. I make the dressing in a jar and shake it until it emulsifies. The amount of dressing is perfect for a pound. It feels slightly underdressed and light, which is how I like salad dressings. Make sure to toss it well. I dress the salad about 20 mins to half an hour before I serve it to let the dressing soak into the leaves. Lacinato kale is sturdy, so the soaking-in time won’t make the leaves soggy.

Last thoughts:

I think several friends now have become converts to this salad. I never thought a raw kale sald would be edible, but in fact I could eat this all year long.

from Kitchen Diaries

Over the past year, each day I open Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries (2005) to read the day’s entry. I tend not to read ahead. His recipes represent the best that approximate directions can achieve. It pays to revisit the recipes I like, because occasionally they don’t come out quite right in the translation from his British kitchen to my American one. But this one was a winner.

His recipe runs like this:

a little butter
freshly grated Parmesan – 135g
large eggs – 4
soft English goat’s cheese – 300g
double cream – 100ml
a tablespoon of chopped thyme leaves (about 5 stems)

Set the oven at 200C/Gas 6. Lightly butter three shallow ovenproof pasta bowls or soup plates. Dust them with a little of the grated parmesan.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a bowl big enough to whisk them in. Mash the goat’s cheese into the egg yolks, then stir in the cream, chopped thyme and a seasoning of black pepper and a very little salt.

Whisk the egg whites till they are almost stiff, then fold them firmly but tenderly into the cheese mixture, using a large metal spoon. Lastly fold in all but a couple of spoonfuls of the grated parmesan.

Divide the mixture between the three buttered bowls. Scatter over the remaining Parmesan, put the dishes on a baking sheet and bake for ten to fourteen minutes, by which time the centre should be lightly risen and creamy inside. I usually test one after nine minutes by opening the middle of it carefully with the edge of a spoon. If there is any sign of liquid at the bottom, I close the oven for a couple of minutes.

Serve immediately, with [a salad dressed with walnut oil and a handful of toasted walnut halves], while they are still puffed and golden. Enough for 3.

My version went like this:

I weighed everything on my digital kitchen scale. My local market sells little jars of Devon double cream and used a little over half a jar for this recipe. I set the oven to 400. Most importantly, I divided it among four, not three, medium-sized ramekins. I used a KitchenAid mixer to whisk the egg whites. Otherwise, I followed his directions.

Last thoughts:

No one who has eaten one of these delectable souffles complained about the portion. Dividing this amount by three would be more than I could eat. They really do need to be eaten right away, but one friend kept an uneaten ramekin overnight in the fridge and enjoyed it cold the next day.