Friday, February 24, 2012

Simply Delicious Cheesecake

After having all four of his wisdom teeth pulled, my son had one request - cheesecake. I promised him I'd make him one. That was seven months ago. Poor neglected guy. At least I am not posting the picture I took of him in the recovery room, so I do have some feelings for the lad.

Last week, a client asked me to make a gluten-free cheesecake. After successfully doing that, I whipped up a traditional cheesecake for my family - it's simple and straightforward, and like most recipes that are simple and straightforward, it's quite delicious.

The recipe is based one I found in Fine Cooking, and is pretty fool-proof. The only hard part was lugging out the food processor to chop the graham crackers and then the Kitchen Aid mixer to mix the filling. So you actually get a workout while making the cake, which completely justifies the eating of the cake later. :) Enjoy.

Simply Delicious Cheesecake

Makes one, 9-inch cheesecake

8 ounces of graham crackers, finely crushed
3 T. sugar
5 T. melted butter
3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 T. flour
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Position rack in center of oven and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 3 T. sugar. Mix in the melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moist and clump together slightly. Transfer the mixture to the springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan (I wore a disposable plastic glove to do this). Bake until the crust is fragrant and slightly darkened, 9 to 12 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, flour, and a pinch of table salt on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle frequently, until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Make sure the cheese has no lumps. Add the 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth.

Add the vanilla and beat until blended, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended. (Don’t overbeat once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much and crack as it cools.) Pour the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake at 300°F until the center jiggles like Jell-O when nudged, 55 to 65 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed around the edges, and the center will still look moist. Set on a rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Unclasp and remove the side of the springform pan and run a long, thin metal spatula under the bottom crust of the cheesecake. Carefully slide the cake onto a flat serving plate.

To cut, run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut the cake into slices, heating and wiping the knife after every slice.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spaghetti and Wheatballs

Although I lead a very ordinary life, sometimes the accumulation of daily events makes me want to pack a bag and head to a tropical island. Alone. Yesterday was one of those days.

When dinner time rolled around, I was ready to kick back and enjoy a quiet evening without the kids. But faster than you could say, "Ski club's been cancelled," I had a houseful of hungry peeps and no plan. I offered up Meatball Subs* to the masses - they've never turned them down and I knew I could pull them off with little effort. Now what to feed the vegetarian? My little friend asked if I could make a "meatball" out of chick peas, one of her favorite legumes. My body (silently) screamed "no" but my racing heart (thank you Starbucks) said, "sure."

I'm glad I took on the challenge, because we absolutely loved these 'Wheatballs,' which came together in no time and baked up crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I'm new to vital wheat gluten, an ingredient used in some vegetarian recipes to provide a meaty texture. I've used it in Black Bean Burgers and tonight's Wheatballs. It seems that the key to success is kneading the mixture well, forming a small burger or ball, and baking or sauteeing until most of the moisture has cooked off.

To ensure the Wheatballs tasted Italian and not like they belonged in a falafel wrap, I seasoned them with Parmesan cheese, Italian-style breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning. If the leftovers are just as tasty, I will consider postponing my tropical vacation for a while.

*Meatball Sub recipe will be shared in a future post - it's embarrassingly simple.

Makes about 20 little balls

1 15-ounce can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 T. olive oil, plus more for baking
1/4 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed
splash of soy sauce (optional)
pinch each of Italian seasoning, salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Pour the drained chick peas into a 9x9 glass baking dish and mash with a potato masher until broken up (no whole chick peas remain). Add 1 - 2 T. oil and mash until the oil is incorporated into the chick peas. Stir in remaining ingredients, using a spoon, spatula or your hands. Begin kneading the mixture to form a thick "dough". If it is very dry, drizzle some warm water on it. Knead the mixture for a minute or two, until everything is combined and the "dough" feels well mixed. Taste a little bit at this point - if you think it's bland, add more garlic, seasonings or even lemon zest or juice.

Form the dough into walnut-size (or smaller) balls and place on oiled baking sheet. Drizzle with a little more oil and roll them all around to coat. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and turn the balls over. Bake for 15 more minutes, or until the balls are medium brown and not mushy. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Easy Weeknight Dinners

The good life continues, with lots of great vegetarian meals at our house. We tried pierogis (the kids had never had them before) on Monday, along with a spinach salad; we all enjoyed Five-Treasure Fried Rice, sans Canadian bacon and with a side of broccoli on Tuesday; and last night the ladies dined on Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and leftover broccoli.

I have tried various methods for cooking spaghetti squash, and last night's was the easiest. I poked the squash with a paring knife all over, to help steam escape, microwaved it (whole) for 5 minutes, and then baked it (whole) in a glass dish at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. (If you aren't in a hurry, you can bake it an hour or so and skip the microwave.)

By then, the sides were beginning to cave in and a fork inserted into the squash indicated it was tender. I cut it in half and scooped out the seeds and strings from the middle (trash or compost them), and then scraped the remaining strands back into the glass baking dish - fewer dishes to wash. **Warning: I seem to have burn-proof hands, so handling the hot squash was no big deal. Mere mortals might want to wait 10 minutes or so, or handle the squash with pot holders. Don't say I didn't warn you.**

I drizzled a little bit of Wegmans Basting Oil on the squash strands and sprinkled with some sea salt. Since it was a weeknight, and as mentioned above, I was in a hurry, I used the Silver Palate San Marzano Marinara, a new discovery I made after clipping a coupon and finding it on sale at the store. It was very tasty and has no added sugar, nor any big pieces of tomato, meaning my kids will eat it.

My newest source of inspiration is Veganomicon, a really great vegan cookbook. I'm trying out a few recipes over the next week or so - they won't be as easy as this week's, but I think will be worth the effort. Look for reviews (and pictures) soon!