Friday, July 01, 2005

Best Cheesecake

Best Cheesecake

I don’t have a large repertoire of dessert recipes – I seldom eat them – but every time I make this cheesecake, I’m rewarded with “oohs” and “aahs” and people have talked about it for weeks afterwards.

I’m not certain where this recipe came from, but I recall a wonderful cheesecake served by a friend one sunny summer afternoon long ago. About six or seven of us mothers gathered on her lawn and, while our preschoolers romped in the grass and splashed in a shallow wading pool, we drank coffee poured from an antique Russian silver samovar and ate a marvellous cheesecake with fresh strawberries. Ever calorie conscious, each of us would take only one small sliver at a time, but by the end of the afternoon, nothing remained but a few crumbs on the platter. I suspect this is the recipe for that same cake. In any case, it’s come to be the cheesecake by which I judge all others.

Seasonal fresh fruits or berries make great accompaniments to the cheesecake. The last time I served it, I decorated the top with sliced kiwi and whole strawberries.

For the crust

1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

For the filling

3 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese (not light or whipped), softened

4 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping

2 cups sour cream (not light)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Use 1 tablespoon of the softened butter to grease a 9-inch springform pan that is at least 3 inches deep.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the crumbs, the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and the 1/3 cup sugar. Press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cup of sugar and vanilla extract until just combined.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan placed on a rack for 5 minutes. Do not turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, make the sour cream topping by stirring together the sour cream, tablespoon of sugar and vanilla extract. Drop large spoonfuls of topping on the cake and spread them gently and evenly to form a smooth coating. Bake the cake for 10 minutes longer. Put the cake, still in its pan, back on the rack and let it cool completely. When cool, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cake on a large plate. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. Accompany each serving with fresh fruit and/or berries.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Best Cheesecake

Best Cheesecake

I don’t have a large repertoire of dessert recipes – I seldom eat them – but every time I make this cheesecake, I’m rewarded with “oohs” and “aahs” and people have talked about it for weeks afterwards.

I’m not certain where this recipe came from, but I recall a wonderful cheesecake served by a friend one sunny summer afternoon long ago. About six or seven of us mothers gathered on her lawn and, while our preschoolers romped in the grass and splashed in a shallow wading pool, we drank coffee poured from an antique Russian silver samovar and ate a marvellous cheesecake with fresh strawberries. Ever calorie conscious, each of us would take only one small sliver at a time, but by the end of the afternoon, nothing remained but a few crumbs on the platter. I suspect this is the recipe for that same cake. In any case, it’s come to be the cheesecake by which I judge all others.

Seasonal fresh fruits or berries make great accompaniments to the cheesecake. The last time I served it, I decorated the top with sliced kiwi and whole strawberries.

For the crust

1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

For the filling

3 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese (not light or whipped), softened

4 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping

2 cups sour cream (not light)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Use 1 tablespoon of the softened butter to grease a 9-inch springform pan that is at least 3 inches deep.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the crumbs, the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and the 1/3 cup sugar. Press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cup of sugar and vanilla extract until just combined.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan placed on a rack for 5 minutes. Do not turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, make the sour cream topping by stirring together the sour cream, tablespoon of sugar and vanilla extract. Drop large spoonfuls of topping on the cake and spread them gently and evenly to form a smooth coating. Bake the cake for 10 minutes longer. Put the cake, still in its pan, back on the rack and let it cool completely. When cool, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cake on a large plate. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. Accompany each serving with fresh fruit and/or berries.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Crab Cakes

Crab Cakes

4 SERVINGS

These crab cakes are made with lots of crabmeat and not much filler, so they require gentle handling.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
6 slices firm white sandwich bread, crusts discarded
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning (available in specialty shops and some supermarkets)
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped fine (wear rubber
gloves)
1 tablespoon minced garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt

Tartar sauce and/or cocktail sauce

In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté the bell pepper until it begins to soften. Let the pepper cool. In a food processor, pulse the bread into fine crumbs. In a large bowl, stir together the bell pepper, crabmeat, cilantro, mayonnaise, Old Bay seasoning, jalapeño, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs, a generous grinding of black pepper and salt to taste. Combine the mixture well and chill it for at least 45 minutes.

With a ¼-cup measure, scoop the crab mixture into 8 portions and pat each into ¾-inch-thick disk. Spread the remaining bread crumbs on a sheet of waxed paper and gently press each crab cake into them, turning it to coat the cake evenly. To help prevent crumbling during cooking, chill the crab cakes, covered loosely, for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over moderately high heat until very hot and sauté half the crab cakes until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, turning the cakes carefully. As the crab cakes are done, transfer them to a platter and keep them warm in a low oven. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the frying pan and sauté the remaining crab cakes in same manner, transferring them to the oven as they are cooked.

Serve the crab cakes with tartar sauce and/or cocktail sauce.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mock Paté Foie Gras

In cooking, the term "foie gras" is used exclusively for duck or goose livers. These livers have been considered a delicacy for several thousand years. The Romans, for example, used various elaborate methods for fattening duck livers to make them more succulent. History tells us that Scipio Metellus, a Roman gastronome, devised a recipe for plunging the livers, still warm from a freshly killed duck, into a bath of milk and honey where they were left for several hours. It is said that the livers became considerably swollen and were enhanced with a wonderful flavour.

Unfortunately, duck and goose livers are not available locally. Fortunately, chicken livers are always available and when prepared this way -- and at just a small fraction of the price you would pay for the real thing -- come amazingly close in flavour to foie gras.

I usually serve the paté with crackers or triangles of thin toast, but because it has such a nice consistency for spreading, it can also be used as a sandwich filling. (My husband John likes it between slices of light rye bread with butter, mustard and thinly sliced dill pickles — a treat to be stuffed into a pocket of his fishing vest and eaten on the bank of a river.)

The paté will keep for several days, but it should be filmed with a melted butter or a light layer of dissolved gelatin before being tightly wrapped and refrigerated..

1 pound very fresh chicken livers

2 teaspoons unflavoured gelatin

1/2 cup cold strong chicken stock, homemade or canned

3 tablespoons very finely chopped shallots or red onion

4 ounces (1/4 pound) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

Salt

Pinch dried tarragon

1/4 cup tawny port

3/4 cup cottage cheese

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed peppercorns (preferably green peppercorns, but black peppercorns may be used)

Trim the chicken livers of all fat, sinew and any green bile, which can make them taste bitter.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold chicken stock and let it soften while sautéing the livers.

In a 10-inch frying pan, melt half the butter and cook the shallots or onion in it for about 10 minutes over low heat, or until very soft but not brown. Add the chicken livers, raise the heat, and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the livers are lightly springy when touched but still pink inside.

Season the livers with a little salt and the tarragon. Pour in the port and boil for about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the livers and onions to a bowl, leaving the liquid in the frying pan.

Boil down the cooking liquid until it is reduced to half its original volume. Pour in the gelatined chicken stock and simmer for about a minute to dissolve the gelatin completely. Then turn off the heat and add the remaining butter to let it melt.

In a food processor, purée the cottage cheese until smooth. Add the gelatined sauce and purée again. Then add and purée the sautéed livers and onions until very smooth. Add the crushed pepper. Taste carefully for seasoning and add more crushed pepper and salt if needed. (At this stage the paté will still be runny, but the gelatin and butter will cause it to firm up as it chills.)

Using a rubber spatula, pack the paté mixture into 1 or 2 decorative bowls and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.

Makes about 3 cups.