Monday, April 27, 2009

Apr 27: Daring Bakers - Cheesecake Centerpiece

It's Daring Baker Time! It's Daring Baker Time!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as this month's challenge.

A few words from our host...
"For this month’s challenge, I have picked a basic cheesecake recipe, courtesy of my very good friend Abbey T., who has tweaked and played with this recipe. She has made many variations, and anyone who knows her knows to ask her to bring a cheesecake!"

Challenge Description
The real challenge this month is to take this basic recipe and play with it. Make it unique. Make a showstopper of a dessert. Add flavor, sauces, decorations – dress it up and show it off. To be clear, I'm allowing for almost any flavor modification within the basic recipe (alcohol, lemon juice, vanilla), changes for dietary needs, and you can also experiment with the crust (graham crackers not essential). And then what you do on top - you have free reign here.

My approach to this challenge...
I'm not a big cheesecake eater, but cheesecake is one of those desserts that I've tried making in the past with some limited success (Mostly, just to sweet for my taste.)

For this challenge, as with most new recipes, I made a 1/3 of the basic recipe with minimal additions. This would give me a point of reference for Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake.

However, for me, the crust is always the key to a dessert so I just halved the crust recipe.

Also, I opted to make mini-cheesecakes using a muffin pan. I like the idea of individual servings.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs [half recipe: 90 g]
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted [2 oz]
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar [1 T]
1 tsp. vanilla extract [1/2 t]
[My addition... a little lemon zest]

Crust in-training... Ready for their role.

A food processor comes in handy pulverizing the graham crackers.
Hurray for electric appliances!

Cheesecake filling:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature [1/3rd recipe: 1 Stick]
1 cup / 210 g sugar [1/3 C]
3 large eggs [1 egg]
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream [1/3 C]
1 tbsp. lemon juice [1 t]
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean) [1 t]
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
[My addition... a little lemon zest in the filling too]

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

As I mentioned above, me like crust!
I found that pressing in the sides first and filling in the bottom last made for a more uniform thickness.

I tried to show the progression from top to bottom.

Also, the question I asked myself was muffin paper or not?
Heck, I'm bold and a daring baker so what the hey... I'll try it with and without baking paper.
Note: I found it difficult to press the crust up the sides of muffin paper.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

A food processor to the rescue again!

Yum... pass the spoon and skip the baking!

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

Used a plastic baggie to pipe the filling into the crust.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Since I made mini-cheesecakes, I baked 20 minutes and cooled in the oven as directed.

Photo in the oven... smells delicious. I couldn't resist taking a photo.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

Hmmm... cooling in the oven may have been a bit much. Note the browning on the tops.
My first instinct was to pull them out of the oven to cool. I'll try that next time.

Tweaking Abbey's Recipe:
As I mentioned above, I'm not a big dessert eater. I'm more into savory foods... so for my creative variation, I decided to go savory. Since this is a cheesecake, I toyed around with swapping out the cheese. Blue cheese is one of my fav cheese so it was natural go that route.

Savory Blue Cheese Mini-Cheesecakes
1 cups / 90 g Ritz Crackers
1/2 stick / 2 oz butter, melted
2 tsp Grated Parmesan Cheese

Ritz, butter and Parmesan. I tried smashing in a ziploc which did 80% of the work. I finally used the food processor to finish the job.

cheesecake filling:
3/4 stick/ 6 oz of cream cheese, room temperature
2.5 oz Blue Cheese, Crumbled [I only substituted 1/4 of the amount with blue cheese. I felt that too much blue cheese would overpower the recipe and give a strong moldy dirt taste]
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated
1 large Eggs
1/3 cup Heavy Cream

Yummy! 2 1/2 oz of blue cheese ready for smashing... er... I mean crumbling. lol.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat).

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. For the filling, combine all the ingredients, except the blue cheese, in a food processor. Mix until smooth.

Lastly, fold in the blue cheese.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface.

That mixture is pretty thick!

5. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool. Can be served warm or chilled.

Out of the oven and cooling. Smells delicious!

Tasting Time!
For the sweet cheesecake minis, they cooled and formed indentations in the center. I took that to mean that those are handy little pockets for fresh fruit.

I chose blackberries. I hoped the tart blackberries would counter the sweetness of the cheesecake.

I have to admit. Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake is very good. Not excessively sweet as I found in some recipes. Overall, I think this dessert recipe is a definite keeper.

Savory Cheesecake...
I paired the cheesecake with a salad to lighten up the overall meal.

First, I sent it out with bacon. Initially, I wanted to do a deconstructed spinach salad... but decided to keep simple with green salad dressed with a vinaigrette.

Can't go wrong with bacon!

Lastly, I used smoked salmon in place of bacon.

Also, a very good result.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Apr 25: Barley Beef Soup

With leftover roast from a couple days ago. Okay, It was more than a "couple" days.

Take two:
With leftover roast from a few days ago. I had a hankering for Barley Beef Soup. Thank goodness for refrigeration cycle and the advent of refrigerators! lol :)

Simple recipe...

Beef Barley Soup
2/3 C Carrot, large dice
2/3 C Celery, large dice
1 to 1 1/3 C Onion, smaller dice
1 C Beef, diced
3 quarts Water
1 T of Beef Soup Base [Could add another teaspoon or two]
1/4 t Thyme
1 Clove of Garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Sweat the veggies - celery, onion, carrots and the garlic. For the oil, I used the beef trimming and a little beef fat

After a few minutes, add the barley (uncooked), beef, water and soup base.
Simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours. I added the thyme after 1 hour of simmering.

The finished soup... The barley plumped up nicely.
However, still needs a little more salt. Next time, I'll use a little more soup base per the instructions.

The new "secret" ingredient... Usually I would use packaged broth or bouillon cubes, but I've seen on some cooking shows where chefs mention using soup base. Also, there's a cooking magazine that likes to illustrate their point that rates soup base rather highly.

The flavor is very similar to the fond from a freshly roasted beef while bouillon cubes are mainly salty with shades of beefiness.

Hmmm... This would also make a good start for the dip in a French dip sandwich. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Apr 20: Roast Beef

I've been experimenting around with different ways of roasting beef.
My objective is to find a way to cook an inexpensive roast like a beef bottom round.
Usually, I try marinading overnight with garlic, wine... the whole kitchen sink... etc. However, lately, I've been trying the "simpler the better" route.

Roast Beef
1 Beef Roast
Garlic Powder
Black Pepper

1/ The night before, generously season all sides of the beef with salt.

2/ The next day... Pre-heat the oven to 250F.
Lightly coat the roast with oil...

3. Baking at 250F will not brown a roast as deeply roasting at 350F so Pan fry to brown all sides of the roast. Additional seasoning, black pepper and garlic powder is added as the roast is browned.

4. The browned roast ready for the oven.

5. Bake at 250F until a meat thermometer reads 135F to 140F.
I actually waited until 140F, but forgot my thermometer is low 3 degrees.... so I should have followed my instinct to pull the roast at 135F.

After 15 minutes, the roast was at 149F (measured 146F).
Thinly sliced before serving.

The roast turned out medium. Sliced thinly made for a nice chewable slice of beef. Seasoning was just right. Overall, good results.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Apr 12: Eggs for Easter?

Happy Easter!

Today is Easter and I didn't buy any dye to make Easter eggs. However, I got to thinking about hard boiled eggs. This year I'll make hard eggs two ways.

Egg #1: Slow Cooked Eggs... Really Low and Slow
Last year, I experimented with hard boiled vs hard cooked eggs. I was taught the preferred method was to hard cook eggs by soaking in boiled water. This is supposed to make a tender hard cooked egg. However, from my experiment, I couldn't tell the difference between the two methods so I just boil away for 7 minutes.

I remembered from a cooking class that egg whites will solidify (coagulate) at 140F to 150F while the yolk will solidify 150F to 160F.

Hmmm... [pondering] If we want a tender egg, then we just need to cook the egg until it solidifies. Cook the egg low and slow so the proteins don't toughen up.

Thinking I hit on something unique, I searched the web and found that chefs have been experimenting around with sous vide eggs where cooking is accomplished in a highly accurate water bath.

I don't have an immersion cooker, but I improvised one with a large pot of water. Using a lot of water is the key since the water will act as a heat tank - holding the temperature steady than using a small amount of water.

The Method:
1) Bring a large pot of water to 160F. Actually, my digital thermometer is slow to respond and low by 3 degrees... so I just kept the hot water bath between 155 to 160F.

2) When the temperature has leveled off and steady, I dropped in 3 eggs on a steamer basket. The temperature dropped 1 degree but came back up within a minute. Looks like the temperature will remain steady.

Cooking time: 35 - 40 minutes.

After 35-40 minutes, the eggs where placed in a cold water bath.

I was hungry so I gave one a try with salt and pepper.
As you can see the egg whites and yolk are solid, but not firm as you would have with a hard cooked egg. The egg white is very soft like a light custard. The yolk is firm.

Egg #2: Chinese Tea Eggs
This recipe is the opposite of the one above. No low and slow here... It's a double cook method is a couple hours of simmering.

Reference recipe: The Classic Chinese Cookbook by Leung, Mai, Harper & Row 1976

Tea Mixture
4 t Salt
1/2 t Five Spice Powder
4 tea bags
3 C Water
3 T Dark Soy Sauce
1 T Light Soy Sauce

Add the ingredients to a sauce pan and bring to a boil.

1) Start with hard boiled eggs.
Crack the shell, but do not peel.
Add to the tea mixture and let simmer for 2 hours.
After 2 hours of simmering, turn off the heat and let soak for 2 hours.

The results... the cracks in the eggshell allows the soy sauce-tea mixture to "color" the egg. The inside of the shell looks pretty cool too.

Side by side comparison of the two eggs.
As you can tell, the whites from the low and slow egg are very soft where it doesn't hold it's shape. The tea egg is solid.

As you can see, the yolks are vastly different. Firm yet tender compared to firm and powdery. Also, the long soak created a green ring around the tea egg. For the tea eggs, I hard boiled the eggs and immediately cooled the egg to prevent to green ring. However, the reheating must have driven the iron back towards the yolk.

I'm not a big fan of hard eggs, but it's fun to try something different.
The low and slow egg worked as I expected and not bad. I don't know if I dig the very soft egg white. It's a texture thing. If I try this again, I'll shoot for a higher temperature.... maybe 160 to 165F.

The tea eggs have a nice flavor, but powdery egg yolks are unappealing to me. Maybe that's why I prefer deviled eggs... the mayo moistens the cooked yolk.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Apr 4: Emerald City ComicCon

This weekend is the Emerald City ComicCon here in Seattle, WA.

Tinkerbell looks different in 3-D. She's got some guns on her... must be a heavy wand she wields... lol

Star Wars costumes are always popular at conventions.

Darth what happened to your hair? Your bob cut was a toupee?

Chewie, Darth wants to borrow some of your hair for a weave.

Who you gonna call? Ghostbuster!

Okay... I'll take a picture of your proton pack too.

The whole Bat family is out.

Bacon! Homer's wonderful, mythical animal.

A face only a mother can love.

Some trophies the Predators vest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Apr 1: April Fools' Day

[Actually, it's Apr 11th. My Internet has been very unreliable for a month. I think I've figured it out and now have a work around so I'm back on the 'net and backposting a couple things]

April 1st is April Fools' Day and I'm waiting for Alan Funt Jr or Ashton Kutcher (Mr Dinty Moore) to tell me I'm on Candid Camera or I'm being Punk'd.

1) April 1st and it's snowing! Fortunately, it's not cold enough for the snow to stick, but snow in April! Nature's prank on us.

2) My car's warning started flashing again. I just had some work done on the car and the dealership looked at the light yesterday.

As I went to work while S had to deal with the car, which I greatly appreciate... I received the call from the dealer and could tell by the tone that I was in for more repair.

The verdict was the beginnings of a cracked cylinder head with oil getting into the radiator. In other words, the repair cost is more than what the cars worth.

Hmmm... My car had 143,000 miles and over 10 years old (1999 model purchased in 1998). I suspected that eventually something like that would happen - cracked block or a blown head gasket. When cars go, they don't just fade away. They go out big... lol.

My only real option was to buy another car. My preference is a new car. I'm not a spur of the moment type. I like to analyze and mull things over. Analysis paralysis. lol. This time I went the opposite and just bought what looked good with a decent price and good financing [Thank you President Obama].

S picked me up and we went to the dealership.

I half expected someone to come up with a TV camera telling me that I've been punk'd. No such luck.

My old car: 1999 Saturn SL1
Photo from 2004... enjoying the snow.

My new car: 2008 Saturn Astra XR
Windows Rain-X'd and ready to go.

Leaving my old car at the dealership, I felt a tinge of sadness. At that time the SL1 was the largest purchase I made on my own. I drove through the South and halfway across the US to Washington State, plus numerous other road trips.

However, I left the dealership with a new car with fancy bells and whistles! Woo-Hoo!

That evening we went through the stuff collected from my old car.

Change, old receipts and mystery bits. "What's this spring?" Remember, back in '02 when DD chewed up the hand break when he was a pup? Well... That's the spring to the parking brake release button. The button shot off with the spring. I haven't used the parking/hand brake in about 6 months. "What's these plastic parts?" That one is for the passenger sun visor that fell off 2 years ago. That's lever for the seat belt height adjustment. This one here is the dry cleaning hook. This is the lock for the arm rest compartment and this is the parking brake release button. Looks like my car was falling apart, I'm hoping to get another 10 years out of my new car... lol