New York Cheesecake (…and some musings)

I know this is a food blog, and maybe I shouldn’t be delving into these things, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately…

As we all know, the political climate in America (and around the globe) has been burning hot. Things were simmering for quite some time, but the simmer has erupted into a full boil and is threatening to spill over.

Here in the States, we are looking into the face of a xenophobic, islamophobic, racist, hate-mongering, modern day fascist. The Republican frontrunner (?!) has brought out a very nasty side of our fellow Americans. I am so disappointed and saddened by the way my countrymen have responded to these times of trials and tribulations. Instead of coming together and supporting one another, we are being torn apart.

Places of worship are being desecrated, Muslims are being harassed in the streets and their schools, Muslim women are being targeted for wearing their religious head covering.

People that we grew up with, who know us, are responding to us with vitriol. I just feel so hurt and disappointed.

You guys, we are one. We bleed the same blood. Don’t let hate drive a wedge between us. We are better than that.

***

Cheesecake is something that I’ve been struggling with and wanting to conquer for quite some time. The last time I attempted making a standard cheesecake was in Spring 2013, when my father and mother were visiting. My Papa was a fan of cheesecake, and it was for him that I attempted to take a shot at it. The crust was slightly burnt and super soggy, and the surface was majorly cracked, but my dad savored and relished each bite.

This time around, I made sure to do my research before I got started. I went through and read about various tips and techniques, and I also reached out to the Cheesecake Queen herself, Faaiza of Modest Munchies, for some pointers (take a look at her impressive roundup of cheesecakes!). The following are techniques that will ensure you get the perfect cheesecake:

  • Be sure to grease your pan! Most recipes don’t call for the springform pan to be greased, but to help prevent cracking, make sure you’re greasing the sides. The science behind it is that as the cheesecake cools, it contracts inwards. If the sides aren’t greased, the cake will stick to the sides and crack as it contracts.
  • Use room temperature cream cheese and eggs.
  • After the cream cheese has been mixed well with the sugar, swap out your mixer/whisk for a mixing spoon and gently mix the remaining ingredients. Do not overmix!
  • Once you’ve poured the batter into the pan, tap the pan on the counter a few times. This helps release any air bubbles that could potentially lead to crackage (awesome tip from Faaiza!).
  • Low and slow baking is the way to go! Skip the water bath, and bake according to the directions on the recipe. Once the time is up, turn off the heat, and allow the cheesecake to cool down in the oven itself. The point behind this is that it allows the cheesecake to cool slowly, thus avoiding abrupt temperature changes, and eventual cracks.
  • If all else fails, cover that baby up with some fruit or whipped cream and call it a day 🙂

(Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.)

 

NewYorkCheesecake

New York Cheesecake

Yield: 1 9-inch Cake

Ingredients:

For Cheesecake:

  • 15 leaves graham crackers, crushed
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 pounds (4 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

For Topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Make Cheesecake:

Preheat oven to 325°F and set aside a greased 9-inch springform pan.

In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and cinnamon and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer mixture to prepared springform pan, and press the crumbs onto the bottom. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar and whisk until smooth. Using a mixing spoon, add whipping cream and mix until just combined. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring only until combined. Add sour cream, all-purpose flour, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into springform pan and tap on the counter a few times to release any air pockets.

Bake for 70 minutes, and then turn off the oven. Allow the cake to cool in the oven, without opening the door, for 6 to 8 hours. Transfer to fridge and chill until ready to serve, at least 4 hours.

Make Topping:

Combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly over chilled cheesecake.

Ricotta and Zucchini Galette

There was a lonely zucchini hanging out in the refrigerator, totally on the verge of going from edible to non-edible. I hate throwing food out, so I set out to find a recipe that would please all of us. I stumbled upon this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which I have been eyeing for what seems like ages, and set out to work. I made my own ricotta (hopefully I’ll be able to do a post on that soon. It is so easy to make!), prepped the dough and filling, and ended up with a galette worthy of being the centerpiece of any meal.

It looks like I’m going to have to buy more zucchini, because we cannot seem to get enough of this 🙂
RicottaZucchiniGalettePic

 

Ricotta and Zucchini Galette

Yield: 4 – 6 Servings

Ingredients:

For Crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For Filling:

  • 1 large zucchini, sliced thinly
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

For Glaze and Topping:

  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (egg-wash)
  • 1 tablespoons slivered basil

Directions:

Make Crust:

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all-purpose flour and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, water, and lemon juice. With the machine running, add the mixture through the feed tube in a slow and steady stream, just until the mixture holds together. Remove dough from food processor and pat into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Note: If dough has gotten too soft from the food processor, simply wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. It will harden and become easier to roll the following day.)

Make Filling:

Toss zucchini with salt and spread out on paper towels. Allow it to drain for 30 minutes, then wipe the tops dry with a paper towel before using.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil and garlic.

In a separate bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil mixture to the cheese mixture and mix well.

Prepare Galette:

Preheat oven to 400˚F and set aside a parchment lined baking sheet.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll chilled dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to baking sheet. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border along the edges. Place the zucchini over the top, and drizzle with olive oil mixture. Fold the edges over, pleating as needed. Brush the edges with prepared egg-wash.

Bake the galette until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with basil. Let it stand for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Galette can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Mango Bars

Lately we have been getting pounded by snow and freezing rain.  The cold weather makes it unbearable to go out and run errands, and so we’ve been stuck indoors.  Although not being able to go out for more than a few days at a time may seem dreary, it does give us a chance to catch up on things at home that we otherwise tend to overlook.  During one of our latest snow/ice storms, my husband and I got a chance to finally organize our garage, a task that we’ve been putting off for 3 months!

I’ve also had time now to focus a bit more on some home baking that I’ve been wanting to do.  I recently made these gorgeous Mango Bars that I’ve had my eyes on since they were posted on VeggieZest.  They are basically the mango version of a Lemon Bar.  When I saw them for the first time, I was sure that my husband would enjoy them because he is a mango fanatic.  Did he enjoy them?  Let’s just say that “enjoy” is an understatement 🙂

 

MangoBarsPic

 

 

Mango Bars

Yield:  One 9”x13” Tray

Ingredients:

For Crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar

For Filling:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup mango puree (fresh or canned)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish

Directions:

Make Crust:

Preheat oven to 350˚F and set aside a 9”x13” baking pan lined with aluminum foil.

Combine all ingredients for crust in a bowl and mix until a dough is formed.  Spread the dough onto the foil-lined pan.  Spread evenly over the base and halfway up the edges.  Prick all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool completely.

Make Filling:

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs lightly.  Add mango puree and condensed milk and mix until thoroughly combined.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pour the custard into the cooled crust, and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the sides are set and the center is still slightly wobbly.

Cool completely and refrigerate until firm.

Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Daring Bakers: Chicken Pot Pie

It’s that time of the month again!  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Daring Bakers is a group of bloggers and non-bloggers who are assigned a “secret” challenge at the beginning of each month.  The 27th of each month is the “reveal” date, in which those who blog can write about their experiences and recipes for the challenge.

Hannah of Rise and Shine was our October 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to bake our own double crusted savory pot pies. Using any from-scratch crust and filling we choose, we were allowed to get completely creative with our recipe, showing off the savory flavors and fillings from our own home or region.

I was particularly excited for this month’s challenge because I have never had good experiences with chicken pot pie in the past.  I rolled my sleeves up and got to working on my handy pie crust recipe, which also happens to be the same one that I use for Apple Pie (without the sugar), and got to chopping vegetables.  I used a filling recipe from Brown Eyed Baker because I’ve always had wonderful results with her recipes.

The verdict?  The pie was great!  The crust was flaky and perfect as promised, and the filling was hearty and flavorsome, as it should be.  Give this a shot and I promise you and your family will be very happy 🙂

ChickenPotPiePic

Chicken Pot Pie

Yield:  4 Servings

Ingredients:

For Pie Crust:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very cold, diced
  • ½ cup water, very cold
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

For Filling:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup peeled and diced carrots
  • ½ cup sliced white mushrooms
  • ½ cup peeled and diced potatoes
  • ½ cup peas
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and diced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Make Pie Crust:

Combine flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add diced butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, until the butter is pea-sized.  With the machine running, slowly add water and vinegar, pulsing until the dough begins to form a ball.  Transfer dough to plastic wrap, form into a ball, wrap completely and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Make Filling:

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture smells fragrant and nutty, 1 to 2 minutes.  Slowly add the broth, whisking until smooth, and bring to a boil.  Add thyme, bay leaf, onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the potatoes, peas, chicken, salt, and pepper and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool slightly.  Discard bay leaf.

Assemble Pot Pie:

Preheat oven to 425˚F and set aside 4 individual sized ramekins/baking dishes.

Divide the dough into two portions.  Divide each half into 4 portions (totaling 8).  Roll 4 of the balls of pie dough on a lightly floured surface into a large circle, big enough to fit inside the individual baking dish.  Transfer and fit each crust to the baking dishes, lightly brush with egg white, and freeze for ten minutes.

Roll the remaining 4 balls of pie dough on a lightly floured surface, large enough so that they cover the tops of the pies.  Set aside.

Remove bottom crust from freezer, brush once again with egg white, add filling, and add top crust.  Crimp edges if desired. Lightly brush the tops with remaining egg white. Cut a few slits into the top to allow steam to escape during baking.

Bake until the pies are golden brown and flaky, 30 to 45 minutes.  Allow the pies to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Daring Bakers: Pies- Apple Pie

It’s that time of the month again!  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Daring Bakers is a group of bloggers and non-bloggers who are assigned a “secret” challenge at the beginning of each month.  The 27th of each month is the “reveal” date, in which those who blog can write about their experiences and recipes for the challenge.

Rachael from pizzarossa was our lovely June 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she had us whipping up delicious pies in our kitchens! Cream pies, fruit pies, chocolate pies, even crack pies! There’s nothing like pie!  I was so excited when I found out what this month’s challenge was, because I’ve been waiting for an excuse to make apple pie at home for what seems like an eternity!

The recipe that I always go back to whenever I make apple pie is one that a good friend shared (Muni, haaaaay girl!).  The piecrust is an Ina Garten creation, but has been adapted to replace the shortening with additional butter and a few other changes that my friend suggested.  The resulting piecrust is buttery, flakey, and perfectly browned when baked.  The apple filling is pretty basic, and more spices can be added for an even more flavorful pie.  I personally love the combination of apples and cinnamon, so I leave other spices out and let these two work their magic 😉 but feel free to add or subtract whatever your heart desires!

That's my little boy trying to steal a bite while I was trying to take pictures!

That’s my little boy trying to steal a bite while I was taking pictures!

Apple Pie (Double Crust)

Yield:  1- 9”Pie

Ingredients:

For Crust:

  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very cold, diced
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup water, very cold
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

For Filling:

  • 5 – 6 baking apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Make Crust:

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add diced butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, until the butter is pea-sized.  With the machine running, slowly add water and vinegar, pulsing until the dough begins to form a ball.  Transfer dough to plastic wrap, form into a ball, wrap completely and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into two portions.  Roll each portion on a lightly floured surface into a large circle, big enough to fit inside the pie plate.  Transfer and fit one crust to the pie plate, lightly brush with egg white, and freeze for ten minutes.

Remove from freezer, brush once again with egg white, add filling, and add top crust.

Make Filling:

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Combine all ingredients for filling, making sure to mix well so that all of the apple slices are coated.

Pour filling over prepared piecrust, add top crust, and lightly brush the top with remaining egg white.  Sprinkle additional sugar over the top crust.  Cut a few slits into the top to allow steam to escape during baking.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 375˚ and continue baking for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top of the pie is golden brown.

Cool completely, and refrigerate any leftovers.