Monday, May 18, 2009


Please don't get the blog police out for me. I'm still alive and well, but the past few weeks have been filled with family and medical/dental issues and, most of all, major computer problems. I'm on my third computer in a month, after having lost ALL my files and photos while reformatting. The new OS, Vista, is not compatible with all software yet, so it's been one nightmare after another with hours upon hours being spent with tech support. I have a ton of recipes in a folder and most of the photos to go with them, but haven't even touched them. Some of the recipes lost their photos.

I promise I'll be back soon, hopefully next week. In the meantime, have a wonderful Memorial Day, in the sun, I hope. (Is there a sun? Haven't seen one lately.)

Friday, May 8, 2009


Junior's cheesecake, had been on my mind, ever since I got creative with my first one. This time, I fully intended to follow the original recipe to a "T"; but, true to my nature, made some changes at the last minute. Instead of the sponge cake base that Junior's is known for, I tried a shortbread-cashew crust, which turned out unbelievably good. Of course, you can use the Keebler shortbread cookies, but they have ingredients listed that I don't want to eat. Real shortbread is considerably more expensive, but the ingredient list is a lot shorter -- just flour, butter, sugar and salt. Since this cheesecake calls for only one flavoring (vanilla), go for the best. I used Nielsen-Massey vanilla paste (Williams Sonoma), and you can see the vanilla bean specks in the cheesecake if you look closely. (By the way, this cheesecake was made almost two months ago. )

Good Morning America posted the recipe for Junior's Famous No. 1 Cheesecake. It's from the cookbook, "Welcome to Junior's! Remembering Brooklyn With Recipes and Memories from Its Favorite Restaurant." The directions implicity state that you should use regular cream cheese, not light. Hrmpph. I hate it when people tell me what I can't do. Sure, it's going to be better if you use full fat cream cheese. But that doesn't mean you can't make a good cheesecake with Neufchatel cheese. Just to prove my point, that's what I did. I reduced the heavy cream by 1/4 cup to allow for the extra liquid in the Neufchatel cheese.

The final verdict is in: The buttery, nutty crust on this cheesecake is the bomb (and the extra fat in it more than makes up for what was saved by using light cream cheese and less heavy cream). The cheesecake is excellent with its mild yet full vanilla flavoring and firm creaminess, and is now in a neck-to-neck race with my all-time favorite, Lindy's. (I see a throwdown coming.)
I hope you're not one of those people that's afraid to make a cheesecake, because they are amazingly forgiving. My son made cheesecakes many times before he realized he was overbaking them. And he thoroughly enjoyed every overbaked cheesecake. He's finally learned how to tell when a cheesecake is done: watch it through the oven window. Watch it puff up around the edges. But don't let it puff up all the way to the center. It should jiggle and look undone when you turn off the heat. See, this is what I love about the Lindy's recipe. It's baked at a high temp, then you turn the oven way down, so the cheesecake cools gradually. It never cracks and it's smooth as butter when you eat it. Most cheesecakes are baked at the wrong temperature, causing cracking.

I was all set to enjoy eating this cheesecake. Before I could indulge, though, my neighbor came to the door asking if she could buy a dessert from me for company she was expecting. What could I do? I gave her the cheesecake. Thankfully, I had made a little 4" cake for Guy and me. So at least I got to taste it, but it was barely a few mouthfuls. Drizzled in butterscotch-caramel sauce that perfectly complemented the vanilla cheesecake and its divine shortbread-cashew crust, I was in heaven, albeit for a very brief moment.

Junior's Cheesecake with Shortbread-Cashew Crust
Cheesecake adapted from GMA recipes and Junior's, NYC
Crust: Judy's Kitchen
Rating: Cheesecake: 9.5 out of 10
Crust: 10 out of 10

CRUST: 1 pkg. (5.3 oz or 150g) Walkers pure butter shortbread (about 1-1/4 cups crushed)
1/3 cup salted cashews
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. coriander
3 Tbsp. melted Smart Balance 50/50 butter blend

Preheat oven to 350F. In work bowl of food processor, place all ingredients except SB and pulse several times until everything is reduced to crumbs. Drizzle in the melted SB and continue to pulse till mixture is evenly moistened. Press mixture into a 9" springform pan that's been wrapped in two thicknesses of aluminum foil (or, as I did, divide between an 8" springform pan and a 4-1/2" springform pan, also wrapped in foil). Bake about 10 minutes (the small pan will be done in about 8 minutes). Cool thoroughly while preparing cheesecake filling.

CHEESECAKE FILLING: 4 (8-oz) pkgs. cream cheese (I used Neufchatel)
1-2/3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract (the best you can afford)
2 extra-large eggs (or 2-1/2 large)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (reduce to 1/2 if using Neufchatel)

Wipe out the work bowl with a damp paper towel. Place 1 pkg. of cream cheese and the sugar in the bowl and pulse till well combined. Add the other blocks of cream cheese, one at a time, and pulse well after each addition. Scrape down sides after each. Be sure the mixture is completely smooth, creamy and well mixed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and just pulse briefly after each. Add the cornstarch and cream, pulsing just till combined and smooth with no lumps. Butter the exposed sides of each pan. Spoon about 1 cup of batter into the small pan and spoon the rest into the 8" pan.

Set out a large, shallow pan filled with very hot water and place both pans in the water. Set in the oven and bake the small pan about 30 minutes, and the larger pan about 50 minutes, till the outside edges have puffed up but the centers are still quite jiggly. Transfer to a warm place, free of drafts, to thoroughly cool before transferring to a wire rack in a cooler place. Refrigerate overnight to "cure" the flavors. Serve with caramel sauce and chopped salted cashews. (Recommended: Smucker's Special Recipe Butterscotch-Caramel Sauce).

You may want to check out my other spectacular vanilla cheesecake from Food & Wine Magazine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I'm always up for a new chocolate chip cookie -- how about you? This recipe uses a little less butter along with some nut paste (hazelnut paste, peanut butter, etc.) Since I still have a bag of almond meal in the freezer, I thought I would use that for the nut paste.

I used Nestle Chocolatiers, 62% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips.  They are exquisite in this cookie, enhanced by a teaspoon of my "coffee essence*."

The cookies are big, fat, tender and flavorful. They are NOT crispy on the edges --and the crumb is too tight and dense to call it cakey, but it's not chewy and it's not the typical chocolate chip cookie crumb.  I think the almond meal drew too much moisture out of the other ingredients. I also used Ultragrain (30% whole wheat) flour, which may have affected the texture, even though it's not supposed to.

Not to worry. They're all gone. It was those 62% cacao chocolate chips. Who could resist them? I will try making these again with paste, not meal and regular all-purpose flour and report back to you. For now, while these were not the best, they were very, very enjoyable....burp.

"The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies"
Adapted from The New York Times
Rating: 8 out of 10

INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar + 1 Tbsp. Stevia)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened hazelnut paste, peanut butter, or other nut butter (I used 1/4 cup almond meal)
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. coffee essence*(my addition)
2-1/3 cups flour (I used Ultragrain, which is 30% whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Nestle Chocolatier Bittersweet chocolate chips)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional) (I used toasted chopped walnuts)

Heat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter & sugars. (Note: I always make cookies by hand. The mixer has a way ofoverheating the dough, causing the cookies to rise in the oven, then fall when they cool. Mixing by hand ensures the cookie will stay fat after cooling.) Add nut paste, beating till smooth.  Beat in eggs, vanilla and coffee essence, scraping down the bowl as needed.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture using low speed until the dough comes together. Stir in chocolate and nuts. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2" apart onto prepared cookie sheets, flattening them slightly by hand. Bake till lightly browned and toothpick returns with just a few crumbs after being inserted near center. Cool completely on wire rack. Yield: 4 dozen

(Note: I used my big ice cream scoop for 6 cookies, and my small ice cream scoop for 12 cookies. I preferred the big cookies -- they were more scone-like.)

*Coffee Essence: Combine equal parts of coffee brandy and instant coffee. Refrigerate till used. Use this as a flavoring in chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cakes and brownies and see the chocolate flavor come alive!

Monday, May 4, 2009


This recipe, from Southern Food, was rated 5 stars. Since I don't use my crockpot nearly enough, I thought I would give it a try. Having dinner taken care of early in the day is definitely a plus for the crockpot. And Guy loved it. But I thought it came up short of my current fave. Don't get me wrong, this was enjoyable. But it kind of reminded me of a 1960's casserole dish. Not that there's anything wrong with that either, but I just can't give it a top rating, even with the changes I made to "beef" it up a bit. Would I make it again? You bet, especially if I needed to throw things in a crockpot so I didn't have to worry about dinner later. That's what the crockpot is for, after all.

Crockpot Chicken and Mushrooms
Adapted from Southern Food
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided use
3-4 chicken breasts, skin off, bone in
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
salt and pepper to taste
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 cup drinking quality dry white wine
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 cup fat-free half and half
hot cooked noodles
2 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread
1/2 pkg. frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. oil; brown chicken on all sides; transfer to crockpot. Add 1 Tbsp. SB to skillet; add onion; saute till transparent. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds; transfer to crockpot. Add 1 Tbsp. SB to skillet, add mushrooms; saute till starting to brown. Stir in soup, peppers, salt, thyme sprigs and wine, and let the mixture bubble up. Spoon over chicken in crockpot. Cover, cook on high for 5 hours. Transfer chicken to cutting board and let it cool a bit. Stir flour into H&H; stir into sauce to thicken. Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Tear or cut chicken into pieces; discard bones. Put chicken back into crockpot; reduce heat to low.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Two minutes before pasta is done, add peas. Drain; return to pot with SB and parsley. Keep warm. Yield: 4 servings

Friday, May 1, 2009


You can see some videos and get all the finalist recipes at the Pie Show official website.

One of the judges of the Pie Show, Emily, also has a food blog, where you can read her comments on the pies and see her photos. If you click on the pie title(s), it will take you to the Taste of Home website and the recipe. Emily was kind enough to visit my blog to tell me she wants to make my pie and that it was one of her favorites.

You can also go right to the Taste of Home website for all the recipes.

Let me know if you have trouble with any of the links.