Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge: Cheesecake

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

As much as I love to bake, I have never, ever made cheesecake, which is why I was so excited about this month's Daring Bakers Challenge. Jenny provided us with an excellent recipe as a base and told us to "get creative". Since it was my first time making it, I chose to play it safe and make mini cheesecakes using a muffin tin of two basic flavors. You can pretty much bet, however, that I will be returning to this recipe again and again now that I've tried it. I can't wait until peaches are in season around here... peaches and cream cheesecake, here I come!

As with most DB recipes, this one was excellent. I made a dark chocolate cheesecake which turned out rich, dense, and decadent....pretty much sinful. I also made a strawberry swirl cheesecake, which was light, creamy, and refreshing. It was actually my favorite. I think the farm fresh strawberries I bought that morning at our local farmer's market made a big difference.
If you've never made cheesecake before, this recipe is very easy and yields excellent results. I highly recommend using a water bath as it makes for a wonderful light and creamy texture. And, even if you have made cheesecake before, you should give this a try. You won't be sorry.

Mini Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Swirl Cheesecakes
adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Lorna Doone cookies, crushed (for strawberry cheesecakes)
  • 1 cup Oreo Fudgee chocolate cookies, crushed (for chocolate cheesecakes)
  • 1 stick butter, melted

Cheesecake Ingredients:

  • 3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
  • 1 cup / 210 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
  • 1 tbsp strong brewed coffee, cooled
  • 1 cup Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped and pureed with 1 tbsp. lemon juice and 1 tbsp sugar to taste

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. Line 2 12 cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. Prepare both crusts by mixing the Lorna Doone cookies with 1/2 of the melted butter in one bowl, and then mix the Oreo cookie crumbs with the other half of the melted butter. Place a heaping tablespoon of crumb mixture in each muffin tin, and press down gently.

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, 1 tbsp vanilla, and lemon juice, and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Divide the batter evenly between 2 bowls. Add remaining 1 tbsp of vanilla to one bowl of batter. To the other, add melted cooled chocolate and coffee. Spoon batter into the muffin tins - vanilla batter on top of the Lorna Doone cookie crusts, and chocolate batter on top of the chocolate cookie crusts. Place a tablespoon of strawberry puree on each of the vanilla cheesecakes, and use a toothpick to swirl the puree into the batter.Tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place muffin pan onto a jelly roll pan and pour boiling water into the jelly roll pan until halfway up the sides of the muffin pan.

5. Bake 15 to 20 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 30 minutes. This lets the cakes finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one half hour, remove cheesecakes 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.

6. Top the strawberry cheesecakes with any additional strawberry puree and top the chocolate cheesecakes with Nutella. Serve and enjoy!

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!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

P-Dub's Mac and Cheese

Oh, macaroni and cheese. The ultimate comfort food, yet to me, so elusive. For a while now, I've been on the quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese. Perfect is so relative; because, mac and cheese is something that can be done in so many different ways. To me, the best ever is my Mema's (aka my grandmother for all of my readers who ain't from the South). No matter how hard I try to replicate her simple recipe, I just can't get it quite the same.

This recipe is from Pioneer Woman. If you haven't checked out her website/blog, you need to. Like, right now. Seriously. It's wonderful. I read it just about every day.

And this recipe was pretty great, too. It uses an entire pound of cheese... and as Ina says, How bad can that be? I actually made this for Easter dinner for my family. I tasted it right out of the oven, and it was delicious... creamy, cheesy.... everything you'd want in a perfect mac and cheese. I made it the night before and stashed it in the fridge to bring to Easter dinner the next evening. However, something curious happened. The next day, after reheating, it was like the flavor of the dry mustard in the recipe was heightened, and to me, it was all I could taste. I am not sure where I went wrong here, but I think next time I will omit the dry mustard completely or just use half of the quantity listed.

At any rate, this is definitely a recipe I will be trying again. Try it for yourself, and you will not be disappointed.

You can find Pioneer Woman's recipe and picture tutorial (full of incredible photos) here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kung Pao Chicken

My hubby and I love Chinese take out, but one thing we don't love is all of the fat and calories that come along with it. This super easy recipe is a great healthier alternative, and makes a quick meal on a busy weeknight. You can whip this up in the time it takes you to call in an order and pick it up at your favorite Chinese take out restaurant! The chicken is tender, and the sauce is perfectly sticky, sweet, spicy, and balanced. Serve it up with some rice and veggies - some soy glazed snow peas would make an excellent side dish - and you're set!

Kung Pao Chicken
recipe adapted from The Crepes of Wrath


  • 1 to 1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons green onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts (I actually used honey roasted peanuts and it turned out just fine)
  • 2-3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1. Combine the chicken and cornstarch in a small bowl and toss to coat.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a deep, medium sized pan or wok over medium heat, add the chicken, and stir fry for 5-7 minutes or until no longer pink inside. Remove the chicken from the pan, place in a bowl or on a dish, and set aside.
3. Add the green onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and ground ginger to the wok and stir fry for 15 seconds.
4. Combine the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk well and add the sauce to the wok.
5. Return the chicken to the pan and coat thoroughly with the sauce. Stir in the roasted peanuts and heat thoroughly. Top with additional green onions (if desired) and toasted sesame seeds. Serve over rice and/or vegetables. Serves 4.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. And, this dish is definitely simple, delicious, and economical. Spaghetti alla Carbonara: bacon and egg pasta. It comes together very quickly, too. Perfect for a busy night where you just need to grab some things out of the pantry and fridge and throw them together. I actually used linguine for mine, which is what I had on hand. But any long pasta will work. This is a perfect Spring dish - try it tonight!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence,


  • 1 pound dry spaghetti (or any long noodle, such as angel hair or linguine)
  • 4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian "al dente.") Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

Meanwhile, add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table.