Monday, June 29, 2020

Getting Cheesy; No Idea What Day it is; Quarantine Kitchen

I know that's not cheese, they are blackberries, and I was fortunate enough to find some amazing blackberries this week, and then decided it was time to make a sauce out of them.  So, then I needed something to put the sauce on. 
I've been helping a family who lost a loved one, making a few Sunday dinners for them.  It's been therapeutic for me, and I hope it's taken the stress off of them.  When making these meals I want to make it as simple as possible, so the main just gets a heat up in the oven, and the desserts can just be served, so cheesecake it is.  This recipe was given to me when I was newly married, over 48 years ago, and it's been a keeper ever since.  I've made other cheesecakes, but this one is still my go-to.  Cheesecakes are magic, you get a smooth, creamy, delicious filling on top of a crunchy crust, and they can be frozen with no problem at all. 


Sour Cream Cheesecake Bars
Serves about 10
Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 18 whole crackers)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
To make the crust, in a large bowl, combine the crust ingredients and press into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the dish.  Set aside.
Cream Cheese Filling
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese softened
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract

With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the vanilla and beat until the filling is smooth. Pour into the crust and bake until set, 35 to 40 minutes.

Sour Cream Topping
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Meanwhile, make the topping. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. 
When the cheesecake is done, remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 400° F.  Spread the sour cream mixture over the hot cheesecake and return to the oven for 5 minutes. 
Remove from the oven and immediately cut into squares. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
Do-Ahead: At this point, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 48 hours or freeze for up to 2 months.
Cook’s Note: Cutting the cheesecake while it’s hot is much easier than cutting it when it’s cooled and solid.  I recommend you do this with a chef’s knife or bench scraper and make one long cut down each row, wiping the knife after each cut. 


Blackberry Sauce
4 cups blackberries, washed and picked over for leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup orange juice

In a saucepan combine the ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cool and serve the sauce over ice cream, cheesecakes, or chocolate cake.  
As we begin another week, Dr. C. and I are staying home this week, I've stocked up on groceries, and snacks, and we won't go out except to take our walks.  He had his first cataract surgery last week, and this week we need to make sure that he has a negative Covid test on Sunday, so he can have his next surgery on Tuesday.  So staying home is our jam.  Stay safe, stay well, and wear a mask. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Quarantine Kitchen, Gaining the Covid 19


Cookies are my downfall; if they are here, I'm like Cookie Monster, I'll eat them all.  Which brings me to the Covid-19...those pounds we are packing on by baking and cooking enormous amounts of food.  Recently I've been on the lookout for a really delicious sugar cookie---I want a cookie I don't have to roll out, soft, chewy, buttery, and satisfying.  I've tried a few recipes, then ran across this one on the Cooks Illustrated website.  I made then once using unsalted butter, and they left me flat, so the next time I made them I used salted butter that was leftover from an early Costco run when they were out of unsalted butter.  These are my cookie; everything I was looking for, and I really can't stop eating them. They will make an amazing ice cream sandwich cookie, too.  That was my motivation for trying some recipes, I'd been to a restaurant in LA with our son who was doing a review, and the best part of the meal was the ice cream sandwich made with some amazing sugar cookies sandwiched with strawberry ice cream.  So with Father's Day around the corner, and July 4th coming up, these are the perfect cookies.  

Soft Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

1 cup salted butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line baking sheets with silicone, aluminum foil, or parchment. 
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until the mixture comes together. 
Add the flour and baking powder, and stir until blended.  
Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, roll in the sugar, and place on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  

Using the bottom of a drinking glass, flatten the cookies, and bake for 7 minutes, reverse the baking sheets and bake an additional 7 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges, and just set.  


Cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.  
Cook's Note:  If you only have unsalted butter you will need 1 teaspoon of salt.  
I hope you are all safe and well.  Until next time, wishing you a great weekend.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What Day is It? Quarantine Kitchen; Pasta Alla Norma

Almost three weeks ago, I lost a dear friend; we had traveled together with our spouses, and she had led my last tour to Sicily in April 2019.  I've had her and her family on my heart and on my mind this week---somehow I feel her loving presence nearby in many ways, and today I was remembering our time in Palermo.
Dr. C. and I have lost 7 friends all to non-Covid related illnesses, and this has been a tough time.  Tonight, it was time to get back in the kitchen, and so tonights' meatless Wednesday was a typical dish you will find in many restaurants in Sicily, Pasta all Norma.  This is a dish that is almost ready while the pasta water is boiling.  I made a pilgrimage to my favorite Italian store today and bought ricotta salata to make this truly authentic. 

Pasta Alla Norma
Serves 6

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
salt
One pound penne, or other shaped pasta like rigatoni, cooked 2 minutes short of al dente reserving some of the hot pasta water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped 
pinch red pepper flakes
One 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, or tomato puree
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper
1/2 cup crumbled Ricotta Salata with more for garnish

Put the eggplant into a colander, and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes then squeeze out any moisture.  
In a large skillet, heat the oil, saute the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes, until the onion is translucent.  

                               Add the eggplant, and saute until the eggplant begins to brown.  
Add the tomatoes, basil, and parsley simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.  


Add the ricotta salata, and cook another 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted.  
Toss the pasta with the sauce, add some of the pasta if needed, and serve garnished with additional ricotta salata, or shredded Pecorino Romano cheese.  
This is a great meatless dish to add to your repertoire, and eggplant is now in season, so it's easy to find beautiful eggplants at your farmer's market.  
I hope that you all are staying safe and well, and I'll be back soon.  Wear a mask; it's a show of love for others.  

Monday, June 1, 2020

Day 78, G&T Cupcakes, Quarantine Kitchen

Like this palm tree, California is beginning to open up, and we are now into phase 2.  I'll deal with the other issues facing us in another post, but the fact that we can now get haircuts, meet in small groups, and maybe get to the gym in a few weeks feels so freeing. 
Dr. C. and I have been really trying to stay home, with trips to the store kept to a minimum and restricting ourselves to walking in the neighborhood, but tomorrow we are headed to see a friend in LA and get our hair cut.  I'm bringing lunch to our friend in LA, so I decided it was time to try out a recipe I've had in my files for a while--Gin and Tonic cupcakes.  This is a work in progress, I think the cake is the right one, and I think the final result is delicious, but it's still not a G&T.  Since gin burns off when heated, there isn't a lot of the floral flavor of the gin in the cupcake or the frosting, but the lime and tonic flavors do come through.  So I'd say it's a win.

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes
Makes 18 cupcakes or two 8-inch rounds

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon lime oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lime juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar. 
Add the eggs one at a time, and add the lime oil. 
Stir in the flour, and baking powder, alternating with the buttermilk and lime juice until the mixture is smooth.  
Using a portion scoop, fill the paper liners 3/4 full.  
Bake for 18 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center, comes out clean.  Allow to cool.
If you are making 8-inch layers, they will bake for 35 minutes.  

For the Syrup

2/3 cup tonic water
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup gin

While the cupcakes are baking combine the tonic water, sugar, and lime juice in a saucepan, and cook over medium high heat until syrupy, about 10 minutes.  Cool, and add the gin.  
Brush the warm cupcakes with the syrup.  Any leftover syrup can be frozen for use in cocktails.  

For the Frosting
3/4 cup unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon lime oil
2 tablespoons gin
1 tablespoon tonic water
1 lime sliced, into 1/4-inch slices, then cut into 1/2 moons

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, and sugar together until smooth.  Add the lime oil, gin and tonic water until spreading consistency.  Adding more gin or tonic water as needed.  
Spread onto the cupcakes, and garnish with lime slices.  






Lime oil is super concentrated; many recipes will use lime zest which I find to be bitter, the lime oil is the zest in a liquid form.  You can buy it here.   If you would rather use the zest, use the same amount.  Stay safe and stay well.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Day 65, The Costco Rotisserie Chicken, or How you can eat for a week


What's the first thing you smell as you walk towards Costco?  It's not the wagon wheel pizzas at the food court, it's the whirling rotisserie chickens that they turn out faster than you can buy them. Costco sells about 100,000 of them per day and about 90 million a year.  At $4.99, it's a loss leader for them, but for me, it's almost a week's worth of dinners.  The first dinner is cutting up the chicken and serving it with a green salad.  Next day, cut off all the usable meat and make chicken stock with all the leftovers.  If you have an Insta-pot and/or a pressure cooker this is where they shine.  In less than an hour, you will have rich chicken stock.  That stock can be the basis for a chicken pot pie, or soup or stew.
The usable leftover meat is turned into chicken salad for lunch, and then into curried chicken or chicken pot pie with lots of veggies. You can add the meat to pasta for a chicken alfredo, or chicken tacos, or fajitas. 
I realize that if you have a family of 4, you will probably just get 3 meals out of this, but Dr. C. and I can get a few more since there are only two of us. 
Making stock in your Insta-pot or pressure cooker is where these machines really prove their worth.  Here's my recipe, it's flexible, if you want to add different vegetables or no veg, you will still get 4 cups of the best chicken stock you've ever had.

Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock
You can also use a turkey carcass to make turkey stock during the holidays---make sure to break down the carcass so it fits into the pot!

1 chicken carcass, cut into pieces
1 onion, skin on, cut into quarters
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
3 cups water
a few peppercorns

Put all the ingredients into the pot, cook on high pressure for 40 minutes.
Leave the skin on the onion, it gives the soup flavor and color
Break up the bones as much as you can


WMF Pressure cooker---workhorse in the kitchen
                               Allow a natural pressure release, remove the top, and strain the stock.
I usually get about 4 to 5 cups of stock, depending on the moisture of the veg and amount of meat left on the chicken
Allow to cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.

A few notes, I don't salt the broth or add herbs to it, but you can do that.  I'd recommend your favorite dried herbs---thyme and/or sage are good choices.  Fresh herbs will be destroyed under pressure, so I recommend adding them in at the end of the cooking time if you want them.  
This recipe will work in an Insta-Pot (it's basically a pressure cooker) or an electric pressure cooker.  Click here for a link to The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook.  

It's day 65, and I'm headed into the kitchen to deal with some leftover halibut for dinner.  I hope that you all are safe, and well.