Cheesecake for people who hate cheesecake

Lemon ricotta tart

I can't claim credit for the lovely dishes, unfortunately

I can’t claim credit for the lovely dishes, unfortunately

I, like a small minority of Americans, do not like cheesecake.  I’m not sure if it’s the texture, although that doesn’t help, or the richness or what.  I like cream cheese.  I like cheese danish.  Why not cheesecake?  There is, however, one kind of cheesecake that I love.  I love ricotta cheesecake.  I had a wonderful slice of ricotta cheesecake from an Italian restaurant around NYU years and years ago.  I think I liked it because it wasn’t so sticky as traditional cheesecake, nor was it quite so sweet.  I’ve spoken with other people who feel this way.  In fact, lucky me, I happened to make this dessert for a friend who had a similar experience with a, shall we say, alternative cheesecake in London.  This tart is creamy and rich, but not sticky and heavy.  If you’re ever thought of yourself as “not a cheesecake person,” this is the one to try before you write it off completely.

nestled in the springform pan

nestled in the springform pan

A few notes on the recipe are in order.  First of all, the recipe calls for a 9 inch tart pan.  Wouldn’t you know it, my only tart pan is a 12 inch.  Baking is way too sensitive to mess around with the size of the pan.  Someday I’ll have a kitchen big enough to have multiple tart pans…  What I do have is a 8 or 9 inch springform pan.

Calphalon, take me away!

Calphalon, take me away!

I thought this would be a fine substitute because it is the right size and it has the removable bottom feature that a tart pan has.  Plus, you usually make cheesecake in a springform pan, don’t you?

Second, the recipe calls for 72 vanilla wafers.  Big sigh.  Let me translate that for the layperson: One box of Nilla wafers.  Note the serving size and servings per container:

Low cholesterol...so that's something...

Low cholesterol…so that’s something…

Ignore everything else on that nutrition label, by the way.  Here is what the box of Nilla wafers looks like in the food processor before it is ground into wonderful, sweet crumbs:

One box fits just fine

One box fits just fine

This is mixed with butter and pressed into the bottom of the tart pan/springform pan and baked:

Blinded by the baking!

Blinded by the baking!

The crust is delicious and lighter than a graham cracker crust.  The filling has a subtle lemon flavor and that wonderful texture.  It makes for a light, but very satisfying dessert.  We had it with an awesome brunch with a lot of great savory flavors (including a savory bread pudding I really need the recipe for), so this was a great way to balance it out with something sweet.

I did have to cook this tart longer than the recipe said, and I think that did have a little something to do with the size of the pan.  I think my pan might have been only 8 inches, and I think that meant that the crust was thicker in places than it would have been in a 9 inch tart pan.  Also, my tart never browned.  The recipe made a huge deal about how to cover up the brown spots.  I never got brown spot one.  No idea why.

The tart was a huge hit.  My friend thought that it captured the taste and texture of the cheesecake from London she’d been trying to find.  Success!

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Gingersnap Bowls

Gingersnap Bowls with Ice Cream

http://www.marthastewart.com/338900/gingersnap-bowls-with-ice-cream

October 2003, pg. 116

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Every Friday our local grocery store sells half-gallons of Perry’s ice cream for a $1.99, which has led to a habitual stop sometime during my Friday.  I thought the gingersnap bowls would be a nice addition to our Friday night treat.

The recipe seemed easy enough.  I thought things might get a little interesting during Step 3, due to the time sensitivity.  I didn’t want the gingersnap pancakes to harden before I could mold them into bowls…

Unfortunately, my troubles began in Step 2.  After the batter ‘cool[ed] completely’ (which the recipe calls for), I attempted to scoop a tablespoon onto a greased baking sheet, but the batter was rock solid.  I briefly warmed the batter over the stove just long enough to scoop the batter.  The first two bowls I made came out nicely.  The second bowl didn’t mold as much.  I used a glass that was too large and I was just too slow.  (Which I was expecting.)  The centers of the third and fourth bowls stopped spreading out in a thin layer at the same rate as the edges.  Leading to the edges being done and the middle not.  I took my chances with the middle being underdone, which was probably not the best choice.  I ended up with one bowl with a dense center and the fourth is now a wreath.  Lesson learned while baking Ginger Snap Bowls: Do NOT let the batter cool completely.

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I’m okay with things not looking perfect, as long as the dish tastes good.  My husband and I were not impressed with the overall taste, corn syrup.  I  would suggest putting a little more ginger in the batter, I could hardly taste the ginger over the sugar and corn syrup.  I was not impressed with the overall process and end result of the gingersnap bowls.  The bowls seemed like a creative way to spice-up a bowl of ice cream, next time I will eat my black raspberry ice cream in a ‘real’ bowl.

Have I Mentioned I Like Custard?

I do. I do like custard.  If there is a creme brûlée on a menu, I pretty much have to order it.  Whenever I go home, I more or less force my mother to make tapioca pudding (she does all sorts of fun variations – last time it was like eating an almond joy).  The one thing that had prevented me from making the Chocolate Custard Cups in the past was a lack of ramekins.

Why not just buy some ramekins you ask?  Because I have sadly expensive tastes and the ramekins I want are $12 per ramekin.  One day, I shall have these and I shall post glorious photos featuring said ramekins, but for now…

Why yes, that is a mason jar!

Why yes, that is a mason jar!

We all know mason jars are great multi-taskers.  G had the brainstorm that I could probably use them as my ramekins.  She was right!  It would have been better if they were slightly shorter, but they did the job.  And the outcome, was this…

Topped with soft whipped cream!

Topped with soft whipped cream!

The chocolate in this is so deep and rich it’s wonderful!  I think I could have beat the eggs and sugar together for a bit longer for a slightly more creamy result… It is also possible that by failing to read the line in the instructions about loosely covering the top with aluminum foil (don’t judge me, I was thinking about the custard!) might have caused the top part to “bake up” slightly while the custard underneath stayed soft and creamy.

So if you have mason jars (or if you are fancy and have ramekins…) I highly suggest you put this in them!!!

Pear and Granola Muffins

Pear and Granola Muffins

http://www.marthastewart.com/317980/pear-and-granola-muffins

October 2003, pg. 35

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“We, I mean YOU, have to make these again!” my husband exclaimed while chewing his second pear and granola muffin in five minutes.  After that statement, Everyday Food’s, ‘Pear and Granola Muffins’ are now in my go-to recipe collection.  I’m a big fan of bringing baked goods to friends’ and families’ houses when we spend a night or two.  Typically I bake some kind of scone or muffin, with the majority of recipes coming from the Martha Stewart collection.  So the pear and granola muffins will fit right in.

I used D’Anjou pears from the grocery store.  I had to wait several days for the pears to ripen, so plan ahead if you want to make these muffins.  I was able to make 15 muffins not a dozen.  There were more than 2 cups of cut fruit from the two pears.  The more fruit the better!  My local Weagman’s grocery store had several choices of bulk granola.  I went with the ‘plainest’ available.  It had a few nuts and was sweetened with honey.  I was very happy with the choice.  Every few bites of the muffin I would taste a cashew, which was a pleasant surprise.  The taste and texture of the muffins were spectacular!  The pears were tender and the amount of cinnamon complemented the fruit wonderfully.

Aesthetically, the muffins looked perfect!  The tops were a beautiful golden brown with chunks of pear, adding topography to the muffins.  I did leave the granola crisp topping off the muffins.  When possible, I cut the down the amount of sugar and salt a recipe calls for.  These two ingredients seem to be in all processed food, so when I have control over putting salt and sugar in food, less is sometimes better.   In this case, just omitting the topping reduced the sugar by ¼ of a cup and wouldn’t impact the overall integrity of the muffins.

Great recipe and I would highly recommend it.  If you plan on making the pear and granola muffins, make sure the fresh fruit is ripe.   I hope you enjoy the muffins as much as my husband and I did!

sweet cupcakes for a sweet boy

Glazed chocolate cake recipe

Easy white icing

The frosted cup-corn-cakes

The frosted cup-corn-cakes

J via Hostess

J via Hostess

J is one.  We survived a whole year.  This isn’t a mom blog, so I’ll spare you the essay on how this makes me feel.  I will add, however, that the last dinner I ate before he was born was the Everyday Food lentil and walnut burgers.  They say spicy food makes you go into labor.  I think being nearly 38 weeks pregnant probably helps.  Anyway, I made two different versions of the cupcakes for his birthday party.  The base recipe is for a cake with a chocolate glaze.  The variation is to make cupcakes out of the batter and frost them with their white frosting.  I made a double batch of the cupcakes and frosted about 2/3 and glazed a 1/3.  That let us check off two recipes.  And it made the party look fancier.

The cupcake recipe is tasty and tender.  It holds up nicely to decoration.  I liked the sour cream in this recipe.  I think that’s what made it tender.  For sheer deliciousness and chocolatiness, however, I have to recommend the Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe.  It tastes like the chocolate cake from a Suzy Q.  It’s incredibly moist and so deeply chocolate-flavored.  It’s the only chocolate cake I make.  Obviously, I had to make an exception here and try this other recipe.   Will I make this recipe again?  Probably not.  I’ll use the Hersheys recipe like always.  Sorry, EF.

Let’s start with the frosted cupcakes:

camera 1

camera 1

Look familiar?  It’s supposed to look like candy corn. I split the frosting recipe into very rough thirds.  I knew I needed more yellow than orange and more orange than white, but not by much.  I colored the frosting with plain ol’ McCormick’s food coloring.  Yeah, the liquid.  If I was fancy, I would use paste food coloring.  If I was fancy, I would use orange coloring instead of four drops of yellow and four drops of red.  I guess I’m not fancy.  I’m completely satisfied with how the color turned out.  The yellow is eight drops of yellow, by the way.

The frosting recipe is not good, by the way.  A stick and a half of butter to a pound of powdered sugar beaten together?  Then you add a couple tablespoons of milk as needed?  No, that’s not how it worked out.  When I mixed the sugar and butter together, it was super thick.  I added probably 1/2 cup to 1 cup of milk to get it to where I could pipe it.

My inspiration for the decoration came from where 8 out of 10 women get their inspiration in late 2013: Pinterest.  “What’s Pinterest?” said the single men reading.  “Exactly,” said the women.  I didn’t have a big enough decorating tip to make it look like big, puffy whorls of frosting, like this.  Instead, I made tight swirls with the small star tip.  The yellow is one layer thick.  The orange has two layers, the second just a little bit smaller than the first to build the cone shape.  I started those layers from the center and worked my way out in a spiral shape.  That probably wasn’t the way to do it.  No matter how sure I was that I had the tip in the center of the cupcake at the beginning, my spiral was always just a little off-center at the end.  That meant I had to graft a quick line of frosting to make sure the whole top was covered.  By the time I got to the white frosting, I realized that I needed to start from the outside and work my way in.  So I started just inside the outer edge of the second orange layer and worked the frosting into a spiral, letting some extra come out at the very end to make a conical tip.  I remembered enough about cake decorating to remember that you have to release pressure on the bag before you pull up from frosting.  If you do that, the frosting stops where you want it to right there on the cake.  Otherwise, you get a bizarre little blob standing up straight in the air.

camera 2

camera 2

For the glazed cupcakes, I made the glaze recipe as written.  The stroke of genius was when I realized that I was essentially making a Hostess cupcake.  I had yellow frosting left over from the frosted cupcakes, so I decided that would be the filling.  I took a plastic baby spoon and dug out a little cone shape from each cupcake.  The point of the cone is down in the center of the cupcake.  I then ate the very tip of the cone (because really, what else are you going to do with excess cupcake besides eat it?), scooped about a 1/2 teaspoon of frosting on to the now-blunt tip of the cone, and placed it back down on the cupcake.  After the first try, I was able to get it so that the top of the cupcake was as even as it was before I took out the cone piece.

it kinda had to be filled, right?

it kinda had to be filled, right?

Then I turned the cupcake upside down, dunked it into the glaze to just past the tip of the paper wrapper (it looks prettier than leaving some bare cupcake around the edges), and set it down on a cooling rack.  Once the glaze was set, I took the excess white frosting and a writing tip, and piped a cursive “J” on each cupcake.  One important note: this glaze will not set and dry out like ganache.  If you think you’re going to wait until the frosting feels like the top of a real Hostess cupcake, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  But the glaze is nice in its own right.  It keeps a sheen that ganache doesn’t, and it’s got a pleasant, sticky texture.

Happy birthday, J.  If you ever read this, know that your mom went to these lengths because she loves you.  And she loves cupcakes.  If you’re old enough to read, you’ve probably worked that one out already.

Pear Snacks!

Ok, I warned you there were a lot of pear recipes in this issue.  Here is a rundown of the “snack” recipes.  They are all so quick and simple they don’t really have recipes and therefore I have nothing to link to, but I’ll give you a good description.  If you have October 2003, issue 6, you can find the details on page 30.

These pears are getting playful with some honey and toasted almonds.

These pears are getting playful with some honey and toasted almonds.

I have a bit of a thing for honey.  I use it daily in my tea and like to include it in recipes whenever possible.  I also want to keep bees someday (as soon as I have a yard really).  Anyway, this recipe basically consists of slicing up some pear and drizzling it with some honey and toasted almonds.  To toast the almonds just toss them in a dry pan over a medium to low heat and toss them around for a few minutes until you really start to smell the oils warming up.  You can also do this in the oven but I like to be able to see/smell nuts as they are toasting to make sure they don’t burn.  This was very simple and very tasty.

Pears and blue cheese should be besties...

Pears and blue cheese should be besties…

Here’s another super tasty and super easy “snack”.  Slice up some pears, pile them on top of some mixed greens along with some blue cheese and some more almonds for good measure.  We ate it with a nice light red wine vinaigrette.  Super yummy and refreshing!

I had this snack waiting for the Bear when he got home from work one day.

I had this snack waiting for the Bear when he got home from work one day.

This “recipe” is even easier.  Just wrap some prosciutto around pear quarters.  It is really tasty although I was a bit disappointed by the deli prosciutto.  It wasn’t sliced thinly enough for one.  It also had some sort of curing salt/sugar mix still on the outside of it.  (Wegman’s would never stand for this!)

There was one other pear snack that I failed to photograph.  You take some store bought caramel sauce and drizzle or dip your pear slices into that.  It’s an interesting alternative to the autumnal treat of apples in caramel sauce.

And there you have it.  Try one, try all.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Tortilla and Black Bean Pie

I didn’t have terribly high expectations when I saw the recipe for Tortilla and Black Bean Pie. But I figured it has cheese and black beans and corn so how bad could it be really?!

I didn't trim the tortillas as suggested in the recipe and look how pretty they bake up on the edges!

I didn’t trim the tortillas as suggested in the recipe and look how pretty they bake up on the edges!

I think even if my expectations had been much higher, I would have been pleased with the outcome.  Somehow when the beans and tortillas and cheese bake together they make an incredibly satisfying texture.  And since I already knew the flavor would be decent because of the beans and cheese, the total package was awesome.

The sweetness of the corn was perfect with the savoriness of the black beans and garlic and cumin.  I don’t love a lot of spicy heat in my food so I replaced the jalapeño with green chiles and their flavor complimented the overall recipe very well.  I served it with a dollop of sour cream.

We both went back for seconds!

We both went back for seconds!

I WILL be making this again.

Shortbread Wedges

Shortbread Wedges

http://www.marthastewart.com/336979/shortbread-wedges

October 2003, pg. 144

Shortbread wedge

I LOVE shortbread.  Butter.  Sugar.  Honestly, what isn’t there to love about this simply delicious snack?  My love of shortbread began when I worked at the coffee shop in Brewer Bookstore at St. Lawrence University.  They had shortbread for a quarter.  Whether I was in the mood for plain, chocolate chip, and/or pecan, the buttery goodness let me step away from my ever so stressful undergraduate life.  Plus they sat on the counter calling my name.

I decided to whip-up a quick batch of the shortbread wedges this morning.  Letting the butter sit at room temperature, I watched ‘Meet the Press’ for an hour.  After I was done drinking coffee and watching some news, I creamed some butter.  Mixed the sugar and flour with the butter and put the crumbly dough in an 8-inch springform pan.  I thought I was being clever with the pan choice.  There was no need.  A half-pound of butter isn’t going to let a cup of flour and a third cup of sugar stick to anything.  I attempted crimping the edges with a fork and failed.  The top layer of dough was flaking off and I probably should have chilled the dough for a full 10 minutes like the recipe suggested.  ‘Hindsight is 20/20.’

I cooked the shortbread for 35 minutes to ensure the center was firm.  The edges of the shortbread did start to brown, so I laid foil over the pan for the last 5 minutes of baking.  This is where I digress for a moment and explain my kitchen and oven.

I currently live in an old gristmill built before 1800.  A well-known interior designer bought the severely neglected mill in the 1950’s and turned it into three apartments.  My husband and I rent what was the old gear room.  NOT a traditional living space.  Our kitchen is about 6’x 5’ including the sink, counter, and oven.  As you can imagine such a small kitchen can only fit a small oven.  The oven doesn’t have a glass window.  So I need to open the door, which lets heat out, every time I want to check on the cooking item.  The temperature control knob does not have any temperatures on it.  I had to buy a thermometer to put in the oven so I know what the temperature is.  Requiring me to open the door more frequently.  Lastly, there is not a tight seal on the oven door and it’s so small the temperature is not consistent.  Now you know what I am dealing with.

Oven

After letting the shortbread cool completely I removed the shortbread from pan.  I was able to break this delicious treat into the 8 wedges, no need for a serrated knife.  Scoring the shortbread worked perfectly.

The shortbread wedges were a success.  Not perfect, but delicious buttery snack!  They almost melted in my mouth.  They had a flaky texture when I was expecting a crumbly texture.   I may not have creamed the butter long enough or I may try creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the flour.  My husband and I both prefer thicker shortbread.  The next time I bake shortbread wedges I will use a smaller pan.  A piece of advice: Only eat one wedge at a sitting.  Your stomach may be yelling, “Too much butter.”  If you go back for seconds, as mine did.  But they were just so darn good!

My, oh my! Pear Custard Pie!!

There are two things you will probably notice while we post about the October 2003 issue.  Number one, it is filled with pears.  Number two, it is filled with desserts.  This post encompasses both of those themes.

Mmm...

Mmm…

The custard pie in this issue gets its flavor from vanilla and pears.  I got a little fancy and used my vanilla sugar (yay!).

It’s a pretty simple recipe.  And the use of the blender is a huge time saver.  The most time consuming part was peeling and artfully arranging the pears in the pie plate.

It smelled so good in the oven it was hard not to just pull it out and start eating it like a soup.  I waited patiently.  I even waited for it to cool a bit.  I did not, however, wait to cover it in powdered sugar.  Who needs powdered sugar when there is custardy goodness waiting to be devoured?! (Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for custards… you’ll learn this about me.)

It was heavenly.  You could taste the eggy smoothness along with the overwhelming (in the best way possible) vanilla and then there was just enough pear to refresh your palette from the richness.  I loved it!

 

So many sides!

The October 2003 issue has so many incredible sides.  This is a summary of the ones I enjoyed the most.

I love mushrooms!

I love mushrooms!

The first I want to discuss is this mushroom ragout.  I cannot even begin to describe how delicious this was!  The shallots and thyme are perfect in it.  When making the recipe I did run into one slight mishap… I had bought all the ingredients but failed to notice that it called for a dry red or white wine.  I was fresh out.  What I did have was dry vermouth!  G and I were both unsure about the substitution until I found this extremely helpful discussion on the subject by Smitten Kitchen (she’s so good!).   The vermouth tasted so incredible that I don’t think I’ll even bother with wine the next time I make this and yes, I will be making this again.

Next, I want to tell you about the beauty of braised leeks.

Can you see how silky and luscious that sauce is?

Can you see how silky and luscious that sauce is?

I love leeks, but I have never braised them.  They are incredible as the base of a chicken (along with some carrots) and they are awesome in a Vichyssoise soup (potato leek soup for those of you without the Joy of Cooking).  This dish almost combined the two flavors.  You use chicken stock as the braising liquid so it reduces and gets super flavorful.  You add butter at the end so it brings in the richness of the Vichyssoise.  I was literally ready to lick my plate the sauce was so delicious!

Luckily, I served the braised leeks with twice-baked potatoes, so I just used the starchy goodness of my potato to soak it up instead.

A plate full of happy!

A plate full of happy!

It was my first time making twice-baked potatoes so I wouldn’t say the outcome was perfect.  They were a little lumpy and not fluffy and light like the ones I’ve eaten before.  I think I should have used a mixer to do the mashing instead of a potato masher to get the perfect texture.  The flavor, however, was without fault.  Yum!

And finally, that brings me to roasted pears and sweet potatoes.

Going in for the close up!

Going in for the close up!

I cannot say enough good things about the spice mixture on these.  First of all, it’s super simple.  Just ground mustard, ginger, and cayenne.  But it works so wonderfully together and really complements the sweetness of the potatoes and the pears.  This makes a pretty big batch, but we finished the entire thing that night.  We couldn’t keep our hands off it.  If we hadn’t been using forks, I would say it was finger lickin’ good.  Well done, EF!  Well done!