Thursday, March 11, 2010

Orange Chocolate Cheesecake

Ok, seriously, hands down, this is the best cheesecake I've ever had in my life. I dream about it at night. I made this for a group of friends on Sunday and, not having made it a day in advance it didn't have enough time to chill and I ended up sticking it in the freezer for a while to speed up the process. I think they liked it, but it was even better the next day. Another superlative Fine Cooking magazine success. This comes from their Cheesecake "Cooking Without Recipes" article from the Apr/May 2010 issue. They give the basic formula with a whole bunch of possible flavor combinations. Here's what I came up with:

Orange Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

8 oz. chocolate graham crackers, finely crushed (2 cups of crumbs)
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
7 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup ricotta
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Table salt
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
2 Tbs. finely grated orange zest (I was generous)
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 c. ghirardelli's 70% dark chocolate chips
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1 Tbs. cream

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and 3 Tbs. granulated sugar. Mix in the melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moist and clump together slightly. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan (to press, use plastic wrap or a flat-bottom measuring cup). 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, ricotta, 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 chocolate chips, orange zest, and 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. The cake can also be frozen at this point for up to 1 month (see make-ahead tip, below).

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

Warm the dark chocolate chips with the cream on 50% power in the microwave, stirring after 1 minute and again every 30 seconds, until smooth. Stir in the orange extract. Scrape it into a ziplock baggie, cut a tiny bit off the corner, and squeeze it out over the cheesecake in uneven stripes. 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.

Make Ahead Tips

To freeze, put the unmolded, cooled cake on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer, uncovered, until the top is cold and firm; then wrap it in two layers of plastic and one layer of foil. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Sauteed Spinach with White Beans over Polenta

Tried a new recipe from the latest issue of Fine Cooking last night. It was fabulous, and will definitely work its way into our regular menu plan. This was SO good. I would like to try it again with a different kind of greens, like kale or chard. I took their suggestion of serving it with a fried egg on top, and also served it over a bed of Polenta, which made it a great meal. I couldn't find fresh basil at the grocery store, so I used some pesto I had in the freezer to replace it (maybe 1/3 cup?). I found it almost impossible to manage so much spinach in my pan , so next time I would microwave the spinach in the bag just until wilted, about 2 minutes, then add it to the frying pan.

Here's the link to their recipe:

Here's what I made last night:

Sauteed Spinach with White Beans over Polenta
serves 3-4

1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. pine nuts
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
One 15.5-oz. can small white beans, rinsed and drained
1 lb. fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
Kosher salt
1/3 cup pesto (or 1/2 c. lightly packed fresh basil, thinly sliced)
1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup uncooked polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)
1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan (to taste)
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 eggs


Bring 3 1/2 cups water plus 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil. Pour in the polenta in a thin stream while stirring. Turn the heat down to low. Add the 1 Tbs. butter and continue stirring, frequently, covering with a lid when not stirring, for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup parmesan.

Beans and Greens:

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the pine nuts are golden and the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the beans and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.
Add the spinach and 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the basil (or pesto), lemon zest, and a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Fry the eggs however you prefer them.
To assemble:
Spread some polenta on each plate, top with the beans and greens, then top each with an egg. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional parmesan if desired.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thai-inspired Peanut Sauce

March is finally here, but somehow it looks just as snowy as it did yesterday. I take hope in a few difficult things coming to a successful conclusion: Zoe got an A on her last English essay (the first from a very demanding teacher) and Clay finished reviewing the portfolios of hundreds of student applicants. He's almost done with his latest commission, a dramatic, large painting for the remodeled Renaissance Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.

I'm trying to pull myself together and get things done in spite of the mood all these gray skies and white landscapes have gotten me into. Last night I actually planned today's lunches in advance and made some yummy peanut noodles with vegetables. It helped this morning go more smoothly. Ok, I have to admit it's almost 11 and I'm still not fully dressed, but at least they both got off on time with a good lunch. I got this recipe years ago from Vegetarian Times. It's very easy to make, it makes a good school lunch, and we all love it.

Thai-inspired Peanut Sauce

1/4 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. tahini
1/4 c. rice or cider vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. orange juice (or lemon or lime)
a dash of hot pepper sauce, to taste
2 Tbs. apple juice to thin as needed
1 Tbs. fresh minced ginger (optional, but I always add it if I have it on hand)
1/2 Tbs. fresh minced garlic (optional)

Combine all but apple juice in blender. Puree on high until creamy and smooth, at least 1 min. Add apple juice as desired to thin the consistency.

Serve over: 1 lb. cooked pasta and your choice of vegetables (thinly sliced carrots, green onions, fresh sweet peas, lightly steamed green beans and broccoli, cooked yams, edamame, etc.). Sometimes I add some broiled tofu as well. This is a good recipe for using a whole wheat pasta, because the flavors go well together.

I've never tried freezing it, but I think it would probably work well to freeze any of it but raw veggies. If any of you try that, let me know how it goes.