Saturday, October 25, 2008

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Wow. That's all I'm gonna' say. I was slightly blown away by this cake.

I'll be upfront with you, my expectations were astronomically low due to some serious cosmetic issues we were having, but inside there, it packed some serious awesomeness. It was like a great big slice of harvest, autumnal goodness right in your face.

This one is going to make an encore right quick, let me tell you.

I am, however, still not the best at making cheesecakes. They're kind of hard and temperamental. I have lately become a fan of the water-baking method (as described in this recipe), but beware--use AT LEAST two layers of aluminum foil. It is a sad, horrific day when you pull the cheesecake out of the oven, only to discover that water has leaked in and your crust is soggy. Sad experience has taught me this truth.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake


for the crust
  • 12-15 honey graham crackers
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
for the filling
  • 2 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 gala apples
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoon apple juice
  • t tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 small jar caramel sauce
the crust
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

Place the graham crackers, butter (sliced into pieces), cinnamon, and honey in a food processor and pulse several times until the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Pour the crumbs into a well-greased 9-inch spring-form pan, and gently press along the bottom and up the sides as high as you can go. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in 2 or more water-tight layers of aluminum foil. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove and set aside. Leave the oven on.

the filling
Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Melt the butter in a large, flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat, and toss in the apple slices and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Saute until soft and slightly browned. Drain the juices, and let cool.

In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with hand beaters, whip the cream cheese for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and cream well. Add the apple juice, vanilla, and cinnamon and continue beating on medium-low. While still beating, add one egg at a time, waiting until thoroughly mixed to add the next. Finally, add the sour cream and heavy cream, and fold in (or beat on lowest speed).

Pour in about half of the cream cheese mixture over the crust, then layer the apples over. Leave a little space between them and at the edge so the cake can fully form around them. Reserve a few slices to garnish the top. Pour the rest of the cream cheese mixture over, then form a little pattern or something on top if you're looking for presentation points.

Place the pan in a large roasting pan, and pour boiling water into the pan, so the water comes about half-way up the spring-form pan. This will help to reduce cracking and improve the consistency of the cake. Bake for about 1.5 hours at 350 degrees.

Pull the cake out of the oven, remove the foil, and regridgerate, still in the pan, overnight (or at least 6 hours). It needs this time to thicken and solidify, so really, don't skimp on it.

Before serving, pour the caramel sauce over the cake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Menu: Formal dinner for 50

So, it went like this: it started as a pleasant conversation with my roommate. He asked a little favor of me. "Sure," I responded. "I'll throw together a little dinner for the ladies at church." Boy howdy, did I not realize what I was getting myself into. Cooking a 4 course dinner for 50 is a little different than making a pot of soup which would last me all week long. I made sure I had some good help, a lot of very large pans, and away we went.

There were a few trial runs, a few miserable failures (The coconut pumpkin soup sounded so good, but it was so bad; I still don't know what went wrong). There were many a batch of homemade vegetable broth made, 2 gallons of onion soup consumed in a week (I just couldn't bring myself to even look at it, much less make it again for 50 people), and more hours than a reasonable person would consider prudent spent surfing cooking blogs.

I must say, I am proud of the menu. I think the courses balance each other well: a little spice in the soup, a little citrus tang in the salad, a very herby, earthly presence in the main course, and then a not-overly sweet chocolate and berry homerun for dessert.

It was fun putting it all together, planning, experimenting, etc., but I don't know that I would go out and volunteer for these opportunities, if I were you.

Relief Society General Broadcast Dinner for 50
(pictures will definitely follow)

Course 1, Soup: Black bean soup
  • I multiplied the recipe by 3, planning on rather small servings (it's a hearty soup). I served them in 9 ounce tumblers with a long breadstick and dollop of sour cream
Course 2, Salad: Mixed greens with carrot, radish, mandarin oranges, and French vinaigrette
  • I had to remember here, this salad is just a cleanser to go from the spicy to the herby. Keep the dressing light and the serving size somewhat on the smaller end. No one wants to get full on course number 2.
Course 3: Entree: Herb braised chicken breast with a side of autumn risotto with caramelized apples
  • The two of these pair very well together with similar flavors. Make sure you put on some parsley at the end, or some other colorful thing, or else you'll get a very bland-looking plate (and the food tastes too good to be bland looking).
Course 4, Dessert: Baked Chocolate Tart
This dessert is my old-faithful standby. I love it, and it loves me. This time I made a topping out of mixed berries (blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries). It's a romance that keeps getting stronger with age.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Baked Egg Rolls

So, I kind of have this moral aversion to deep-frying things. Although there is a very soft place in my heart for onion rings, sweet potato fries, coconut shrimp, thick french fries with the peels still on them, and Chick-Fil-A, I will probably never in the the entirety of my life ever deep fry anything at home. The first time I walked through a Krispy Kreme donut store where they have the big windows where you can see the gallons of boiling oil in which the fry those things . . . ughh, it kind of grossed me out a lot. I also envision the process being really messy. Maybe I'm wrong, but it's a big hurdle for me. Maybe I'm terrified of getting killed by spilling boiling oil all over me (which apparantley is a real concern in deep frying a whole turkey for Thanksgiving). Well, whatever the reason, I am pretty much always looking for alternatives to dropping perfectly healthy vegetables and goodness in boiling fat. I just don't see how this can turn out well.

However, there is a concession which must happen. These eggrolls aren't going to fool anyone. No one is going to think they're the real thing. However, I wonder how much "real" there really is in the "real thing" sometimes, so who cares. The trick is to have something warm, tasty, and good that you can pick up with your hand and will stay intact the whole time. These things deliver on all of those fronts. Good luck.

Baked Egg Rolls
enough for a crowd

  • 2 large, chopped garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (white and green parts separated)
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 head savoy cabbage, chopped into thin strips
  • 4 large carrots, shredded
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, diced
  • 1.5 inches fresh giner root, grated
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 packages (40) egg roll wrappers
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a a wok or skillet. Toss in the garlic and the white part of the onions. Sautee a few minutes. Add the pork and cook until brown.

In a bowl, combine the pork mixture, cabbage, green parts of the onions, bamboo shoots, carrot shavings, and ginger. Mix well. Pour the oil and soy sauce over, coating well.

Take an eggroll wrapper, wet one surface lightly with a little water, and place a heap of the mixture in the middle. There's a little bit of an art to getting the right amount in there, so experiment. Fold over one corner, then the two sides, then tightly roll to the last corner. Press on the seams to make sure they're in place. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.

Spread the eggrolls out on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve with sweet-chili sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or something similar.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pears with Gorgonzola

Anyone who has read a little of this blog, or who just knows me at all, will probably have noticed my slight obsession with pears and gorgonzola. Recipes featuring that combo have popped a few times on this blog already (like here, or maybe here), and dinner parties of mine have featured it quite a bit, also. There's just something about the sweet-tangy combo of the cheese and pears that just works. Throw in a few walnuts or cranberries and you've got a happy boy right here.

I really kind of even hesitate to call this a recipe, because it's really just layering a few things together and serving. I don't really have amounts for everything: it's totally up to you on the proportions. However, it looks pretty elegant, tastes really good, and will make your life better.

Pears with Gorgonzola

  • 4 large soft-but-not-mushy pears (I recently discovered and fell in love with comice pears: you should, too)
  • A few ounces crumbly gorgonzola cheese (as much or as little as you want)
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces
  • a few tablespoons butter and brown sugar for caramelizing the walnuts
  • honey, for drizzling
Caramelize the walnuts by melting a few tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a heavy, flat-bottomed saucepan. Add the walnuts, and stir constantly for a few minutes. Add a few tablespoons of brown sugar and continue to stir until the sugar hardens around the nuts.

Core and slice the pears. Layer the slices in a bowl with the cheese and walnuts, periodically drizzling with some honey. Serve quickly, so the pears don't brown.