The Cheesecake Factor

Caramel Apple Pecan and Pumpkin Spice Cheesecakes

Caramel Apple Pecan and Pumpkin Spice. MMMMM….

My first official post in what… 7 months? Time flies when you aren’t inspired to cook. But thanks to the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I had a reason to bake a dessert or two. With the Autumn season in full swing, what better way to acknowledge it than to utilize apples and pumpkin? Two different cheesecakes derived from the same basic recipe.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

  • Basic Cheesecake Filling (recipe follows)
  • graham cracker crust (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/2 c caramel sauce (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 2 apples (preferably granny smith), peeled, cored, diced
  • 1 T AP flour

Pour about 1/2 of your caramel sauce into the bottom of your graham cracker crust. If you prefer, you can omit this step to make the cheesecake less sweet. Sprinkle about half of your chopped pecans on top of the caramel layer. Toss the diced apple with the AP flour so that it doesn’t sink into the bottom of your cheesecake filling. Mix the apple into the cheesecake filling and then pour into the crust. You may have some apple filling left over. Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven over a bain-marie for 35-40 minutes or until set in the middle. While still warm, drizzle the rest of your caramel sauce on top and sprinkle the remaining pecans. Allow to cool for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake

  • Basic Cheesecake Filling (recipe follows)
  • graham cracker crust (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 t ground clove
  • 1/8 t ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 c pureed pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling)

Measure about 1 c of the plain cheesecake filling and pour into the bottom of the crust. Mix pumpkin and spices into remaining filling until thoroughly combined. Pour pumpkin filling on top of the plain filling. Spread evenly. Swirl two fillings if you wish. Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven over a bain-marie for 35-40 minutes or until set in the middle. Allow to cool for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Basic Cheesecake Filling

  • 2 packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c white sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Cream together the sugar and cream cheese until well combined. Gradually mix in vanilla and then eggs, one at a time. Pour into your graham cracker crust of choice.

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Chef’s Block

It’s been about 5 months since I last updated this. It’s not for lack of trying, but I just haven’t had the time to cook as much. And when I do make something, it’s either uninspired or I didn’t document it. But honestly, I’ve been eating out a lot more lately. Since May, to be exact. It’s mostly due to my sister graduating and her wanting to eat out with the family before she moves off onto bigger endeavors. But now that Autumn is in full swing, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things in the kitchen. I’m going to (hopefully) pursue more fall and holiday inspired dishes as the days get cooler.

Beam Me Up, Biscotti

Biscotti

Biscotti

Growing up, one of my fondest food memories was having biscotti and coffee (hot cocoa for the kids) with the family on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t a weekly thing, but it was something that happened to occur on a Sunday. Biscotti is a twice-baked biscuit or cookie. The dough is baked as a “loaf” and cut into the individual biscotti. These resulting cookies are then baked again, which is what causes them to dry out and become crunchy, perfect for dunking in your coffee (or cocoa).

Biscotti

  • 1/3 c butter, softened
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t almond extract
  • 2 1/4 c AP flour
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 c almonds, slivered

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Mix in rest of liquid ingredients. Stir in dry ingredients until combined. Fold in slivered almonds until well incorporated. Divide mixture into two equal portions, which will be spread into 2 loaves on baking sheet. They will need to be spread so that they’re about a 1/2 inch tall and almost as long as your baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, turning around halfway, depending on your oven. When it’s golden brown, take it out and allow to cool on a baking rack for 5 minutes. While it’s still warm, cut along the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Lay them on your baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, flipping and turning halfway through. Allow to cool.

Adventures in Franco-Italian Fusion

French onion soup turned into pizza.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to make was French Onion Soup. Funny thing is that I’ve never actually had French Onion Soup before. So I made a batch one night, not knowing how it should taste. It came out alright… I guess. Like I mentioned, I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. Since I had so much soup left, I decided to use it to make a pizza.

I’m going to super simplify this recipe. Basically you’re going to take the caramelized onions from your French onion soup, drain them, and top a pizza crust with them.

French Onion Soup Pizza

  • 1/2 – 2/3 c drained onions from French onion soup, depending on size of pizza (or caramelized onions)
  • 1 lb. pizza dough
  • 1/2 c shredded mozzarella or Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. It’s important that you take the time to drain your onions well as you don’t want the broth making your crust all soggy. Take your favorite pizza dough, whether it’s from scratch or from a terrifyingly pressurized can, and flatten it out on a greased pizza pan or baking sheet. Dock dough with a fork so it doesn’t puff up in the oven. Pop it into the oven for 7 minutes so that the crust can set. Take the crust out and evenly distribute your drained onions all over. Sprinkle liberally with the shredded cheese. If you want to stay true to the French onion soup, use shredded Swiss (Gruyere). If you only have mozzarella on hand, then that’s fine as well. If you want a REALLY crispy crust, then bake pizza directly on oven rack. If not, then bake in pan in oven for 12 minutes or until crust & cheese are golden brown.

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Brother, Can You Spare a Rib?

Finger lickin' good.

I’ve neglected this place, which is a habit of mine. And also explains why my blog turnover rate is pretty high.

We’re going Asian today as I go through my backlog of dishes that I’ve made over the holidays. I had pho one night and for some reason I had a hankering for garlic black bean sauce. Hoisin sauce is typically the condiment of choice for pho, but I really wanted to use the garlic black bean sauce in a dish.

Pork Spare Ribs in Garlic Black Bean Sauce

  • 2 lb pork spare ribs, cut into small pieces
  • 1 t minced ginger
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 c sliced green onions
  • 1/4 c garlic black bean sauce
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 t cornstarch
  • 2/3 c water

Brown the pork spare ribs in a hot, oiled wok. Because my wok is smaller than those found at a Dim Sum restaurant, I browned them in batches so that the wok wasn’t crowded. After browning the riblets, set them aside on a plate. Saute the aromatics (ginger, garlic, and green onions). Meanwhile, mix together the black bean sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch, and water to make the sauce. Toss the spare ribs in and pour the sauce over the ribs and aromatics. Toss to coat and allow to simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes. The sauce should reduce enough to glaze the ribs nicely. Serve with rice.

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Let’s Go To Tamal… Today II

Guava and Cheese Tamales

Guava and Cheese Tamales

Part II of my Tamale series of posts. This one is inspired by the Guava & Cheese rolls over at Porto’s. I had a difficult time trying to find the guava paste (ate de guayaba). I tried Northgate (which is a big chain of Mexican supermarkets) and couldn’t find it. I heard that Vallarta (another large chain of Mexican supermarkets) opened a store locally, so I checked them out, which did have it. Making dessert tamales is much simpler than savory tamales. A few changes must be made to the masa for this tamale though.

Once again, soak dried corn husks in hot water while you’re preparing everything else.

Dessert Tamale Masa

  • 2 c masa harina (para hacer Tamales)
  • 2 c warm guava nectar
  • 2/3 c butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t baking powder

As you can see, instead of lard, I’ve substituted butter. You probably don’t want your dessert tamales to taste like pork. I’ve also added some sugar to sweeten the masa and replaced the water with guava nectar for additional flavor. If you wish to make the masa more tender, add about 1/2 c of milk after letting the masa rest in the fridge.

Guava & Cream Cheese Tamales

  • 8 oz block of cream cheese
  • 8 oz guava paste

To make the process of cutting the cream cheese easier, freeze the block of cream cheese for 30 minutes. Cut both the cream cheese and guava paste into 4 inch sticks. They should be about 1/4-1/2 inch wide. This way, when you line the middle of your tamale with a stick of cream cheese and a stick of guava paste, you’ll get a bit of each with each bite. I’ve tried it with alternating cubes of each and it was like one bite was just guava and one was just a glob of cream cheese.

Assemble your tamales like normal ones. Spread the masa, line with filling, and fold in the sides & end. Steam for 1 1/2 hours until masa is firm.

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Let’s Go To Tamal… Today.

Beef Tamales

Beef Tamales

After a culinary road block, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that tamales will be my next endeavor. Being a Filipino raised literally next to the border, I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food. I decided to try my hand at tamales, which I’ve heard can be difficult. Now I know that I could have saved a lot of time by using pre-made masa and pre-cooked meat, but I’m the type of person that likes to try making things from scratch at least one time before cutting corners. I’m not hating though as I realized how tedious it is.

I had to do a lot of research on how tamales are made and what the best methods of making them were as well as what filling was best. I went with the most traditional filling I could think of: shredded, braised beef. This entire ordeal probably could have taken me 6 hours at most, but I stretched it out over 2 days since I had few days off in a row this week.

First off, take about half a package of dried corn husks and soak in hot water while you’re cooking and preparing everything else.

Beef for Tamales

  • 1 1/2 pounds of beef (I used a chuck roast)
  • Enough water to cover
  • Dried Ancho, Guajillo, and California Chiles
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground oregano
  • Bay leaf
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Whole, black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 T oil
  • 2 T AP flour

First, we need to braise the beef. Season the beef liberally with ground cumin, oregano, and kosher salt. Place the seasoned meat inside a stock pot and cover with water. Add garlic cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Turn on high and allow to come to a boil. While that’s heating up, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off the stem end of the chiles and take out as many of the seeds as you can. While these peppers aren’t really spicy, they do provide a lot of flavor. Add chiles to the pot. When pot comes to a boil, turn the fire down to low and allow to simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.

If your electric/gas bill can’t take the heat (pun intended), you might want to consider a pressure cooker. It’ll get the same job done in 1 hour. Or you may want to invest in a crock pot/slow cooker. These devices usually use a lower wattage to cook items over a very long period of time (think ~8 hours). In any case, turn over the meat once in a while for even cooking (when not in pressure cooker). When meat literally falls apart, it’s done.

Take beef out and allow to rest. When well rested, take two forks and finely shred meat. Reserve cooking liquid.

We’re not done yet. It’s time to stew the shredded meat and make a nice sauce out of the cooking liquid.

Reconstitute an Ancho, California, and Guajillo chile in hot water. Once rehydrated, chop the chiles finely. In order to make the thick sauce, we need to start with a roux. Heat the oil and cook the flour in it, stirring until it lightly browns. Add reserved cooking liquid and stir until well dissolved. Add chopped chiles and shredded beef and allow it to simmer until cooking liquid has thickened and reduced. This should take around 30-45 minutes. Season with cumin and salt to taste.

Masa for Tamales

  • 2 c masa harina (specifically for tamales – usually says “para hacer tamales”)
  • 2/3 c lard or shortening
  • 2 c warm water or broth
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt*

Using an electric mixer or a pastry cutter, cut lard into masa harina and baking powder until it’s well blended and crumbly in texture. Mix in 2 c of your warmed liquid of choice. To add extra flavor, use some of the cooking liquid that you reserved from your meat. I just used a 14oz can of beef broth from the store and added water to make 2 c. Because the meat was already liberally seasoned, I omitted the salt. The finished masa should be like a really soft dough, almost like peanut butter.

Preparing/Cooking the Tamales

You soaked the corn husks in hot water before, right? Good. Take a rehydrated husk, one that’s about 6 inches wide and turn it so that the pointed end is towards you. Take about 2 heaping T of the masa and spread it in a 4-5 inch square at the top of the husk. Take about a tablespoon of your filling and line it down the middle of your masa square. Pick up both sides and roll towards each other so that the masa can adhere to itself. Then fold the sides over each other. Take the bottom end and fold that over. Tear off a nice strip of corn husk and use it to tie up the tamale and keep it nicely bundled. Line the bottom of your steamer or pot with rehydrated corn husks. Place finished tamale in pot standing up. Repeat with rest. When ready to steam, cover tamales with more corn husks so they don’t get waterlogged with condensation from the cover. Pour about 2 c of water into the pot and steam for about 1-1 1/2 hours, until masa is firm to the touch.

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The Swedish Chef I

Swedish Potatoes

The Swedish are more than just fish, chefs, and modern but woefully crafted furniture.

These Swedish Potato Fans are ridiculous. They’re baked potatoes. They’re oven fries. They’re delicious. There really is no recipe as it’s just your average baked potato topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. It’s all in how they’re prepared.

 

Swedish Potato Fans

Take a Russet potato and slice a little off the bottom so that it can sit flat. Slice off a little off each end. Now for the fun part. Take a couple of chopsticks and lay them on either side of the potato. They’ll act as a knife guide as you make 1/4″ wide slices across the potato all the way down to the chopsticks. This will enable the potato to remain intact as it cooks.

Here’s an important step: before cooking, you have to rinse off the excess starch in between each slice under cold water. Otherwise, the slices will eventually glue themselves back together as it cooks due to the starches. Place them on a microwave safe plate and nuke them for 6 minutes, turning them over halfway through.

Place them on a baking sheet lined with nonstick foil or parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil. Be sure to brush them in between each slice as well. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, turning them around halfway.

While it’s baking, you can prepare the topping, which is nothing more than breadcrumbs, melted butter, and shredded cheese. After it’s done baking, top each potato with your breadcrumb mixture and bake in the oven until everything is nice and brown.

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Blondies Have More Fun

White Chocolate Walnut Blondie

And now for something completely different… Well, not really.

I decided to switch it up this time and make Blondies instead of Brownies. Think of Blondies as Brownies without the chocolate. They’re like Michael Jackson after the skin lightening. Too soon?

The recipe is actually pretty much the same as a basic chocolate chip cookie, except for some minor differences.

 

White Chocolate Walnut Blondies

  • 1 c AP flour
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/8 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 c melted butter
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all dry ingredients and the nuts.

Mix together the melted butter and sugar. This should cool it enough that you can mix the egg and vanilla into it.

Add your dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Spread into a 9 in. sq pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

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No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of These Brownies

Pumpkin Vegan Brownies... I think.

I love brownies. There’s something about the chocolaty, chewy, moist middles, surrounded by crispy, crunchy edges. I decided to try my hand at making a healthier alternative to regular brownies.

I came across multiple references to substituting all the liquid ingredients for a can of pureed pumpkin. No oil, no eggs, not even any water. Just pumpkin. Everyone said that it was just like eating a regular brownie.

They were dead wrong. It had the consistency of dense, bread pudding. Like a moist cake collapsed in on itself. It was chewy just like a brownie, but it verged on almost rubbery.

If you MUST make them, all you need to do is take your favorite brownie recipe (whether it’s from a box or from scratch) and replace all the liquid ingredients with a 15 oz. can of pure pumpkin. Bake as directed.

 

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