Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baked Brooklyn's Absolutely Amazing Cheesecake

Believe me when I tell you that this is one of the best cheesecakes I have ever tasted and certainly the best one I have ever made at home. I am not being hyperbolic here. Trust me, I know cheesecake. And this one really is that good. 
My insider's tip is that the best New York style cheesecake is in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, not far from where I grew up. S&S Cheesecake is hands down the most delicious cheesecake you can buy on the open market. Their factory doesn't have the most convenient hours, but everyone "in the know" knows that you can get their classic cakes on 238th Street (in the Bronx), at the local bodegas right off Broadway.  
This cake(recipe below), is my No. 2 pick. That's really saying something. The cheesecake is another out-of-this-world recipe from Baked, Brooklyn. It's thick, rich, and has a hint of lemony-citrus. The graham cracker crust is perfection and it was very easy to make.  
This cheesecake requires a bit of time--not actual work time, but time to bake, cool and then refrigerate. You also need to get the cream cheese to room temperature. If it is too cold it will require excessive beating, which could add too much air to the mixture and lead to cracking (though this doesn't affect the taste). So my advice to you, make this the day before you want to eat it. 
Upstate Cheesecake (Courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)
Yields 1 cake (This is such a rich cake, you really only need a small slice. We got more than 12 servings out of this cake, but figure out your own portion-size preference based on a 9 inch cake.) 
For the Simple Graham Crust
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 20 crackers in crumbs)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the Cream Cheese Filling
40 ounces (five 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
5 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream

Make the Simple Crust:
  • Lightly spray a 9 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.  (I used my traditional 9 inch pie pan.)  
  • Put the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a large bowl.  Beat, by hand, until well combined.  Press the mixture into the bottom and all the way up the sides of the prepared pan.  Put in the refrigerator while you make the filling. 
Make the Cream Cheese Filling:
  • Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sugar, flour, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Beat on medium speed until just combined, being careful not to overbeat (too much air can cause the cheesecake to crack).  Add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the cream and beat until incorporated.
  • Pour the mixture into the chilled crust and bake for 10 minutes.  Open the oven door to let out some heat, and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Bake until the cheesecake is set around the outside, but still slightly wobbly in the center, 45 minutes to 1 hour, rotating the pan every 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and spread the sour cream over the top of the cheesecake.  Return to the oven for 5 more minutes.  Turn off the heat, crack the oven door, and let the cheesecake cool completely in the oven (about 1 hour).  
  • Chill the cheesecake in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, loosen the sides of the crust from the pan with an offset spatula, then remove the springform sides and serve.  (I just cut a slice with a sharp knife and served!) 
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Ottolenghi's Mushroom Lasagna

Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook, Plenty, is absolutely terrific. I'm a long-time fan of Yotam- the London restaurateur , Guardian columnist and cookbook author. His cauliflower cumin fritters with lime yogurt dressing are a staple in our house. And this is another recipe I really enjoyed. I’ve posted a mushroom lasagna recipe before, but I felt compelled to add this one too.

This lasagna is definitely not for anyone who is lactose intolerant or who otherwise has an aversion to dairy. It contains 5 cheeses (Italian Fontina, Feta, Ricotta, Parmesan and Gruyere), lots of mushrooms, in addition to fresh herbs …which makes this cheesy gooey mushroom lasagna the ultimate comfort food that is perfect for winter.

Mushroom Lasagna (Courtesy of Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi)
Serves 8
1 1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 3/4 pounds of mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced if large (I used portobello, cremini, and white)
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and white pepper (I used black because that's what I have in the spice rack)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, chopped
scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups milk
13 fl oz ricotta
1 large egg
5 oz feta, crumbled
6 oz Gruyere, grated
1 pound dried spinach lasagna (I used regular lasagna noodles. I wasn't able to find spinach.)
5 oz fontina cheese (or mozzarella), grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover the porcini with the lukewarm water and leave to soak for 5 minutes.  Drain in a sieve set over a bowl, squeezing the mushrooms to remove all the liquid; reserve the liquid.
   Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan.  When foaming, add the thyme, porcini and fresh mushrooms.  Cook for 4 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened and exuded some of their liquid, stirring occasionally.  Off the heat, stir in the tarragon, parsley and some salt and pepper.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
   Use the same pan to make a béchamel.  Put the butter and shallot in the pan and cook on medium heat for about a minute.  Add the flour and continue cooking, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes; the mix will turn into a paste but shouldn't color much.  Gradually whisk the milk and porcini soaking liquid, leaving any grit in the bowl.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and continue whisking until boiling.  Simmer on low heat, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickish.  Remove from the heat. 
   In a small bowl mix together the ricotta and egg, then fold in 3 tablespoons of béchamel and the feta.  Add the Gruyere to the remaining béchamel in the pan and stir well to get your main sauce.
   Pour boiling water over the lasagna noodles (do this a few at a time so they don't stick together) and soak for 2 minutes; remove and dry them on a tea towel.
   To assemble the lasagna, pour one-fifth of the sauce over the bottom of an ovenproof dish that is about 10x14 inches.  Cover with lasagna noodles.  Spread one-quarter of the ricotta mix on top, scatter over one-quarter of the mushrooms and sprinkle with one-quarter of the fontina.  Make three more layers in the same way, then finish with a layer of pasta covered with sauce.
   Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and cover loosely with foil (don't lay it directly on the surface of the lasagna).  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the sides.  Lift the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the top turns golden.  Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Serve this with an arugula and tomato salad! 

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Little Boy Blue: Late Winter/Early Spring

Taking a few minutes away from recipes and all things food...
Here are some recent photos of Otis watching birds in the yard  (very pensive) and walking around in his "blue suit."  

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Ina's Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

A while back we had dinner at our friends Jenn and Ori's place. We ate wonderful Eataly pastas topped with San Marzano sauce, this salad, fantastic bread, creamy butter and pumpkin cupcakes with maple frosting. And now that we (finally!) have a dining table, it was my turn to host our friends, and their baby, for a birthday dinner this past Saturday night.  
I always get nervous about cooking meals for others, but everything turned out great. We started off with this butternut squash salad, then moved on to a three-mushroom lasagna in a bechamel sauce and concluded with one of the best desserts I think I've ever made-- a graham cracker crust cheesecake from Baked, Brooklyn (recipe to be posted shortly). There was red and white wine (just a glass for me as I'm a few weeks shy of my third trimester with baby number two), good conversation and a lot of laughs. Both of our kids fell asleep and we hung out till just after mid-night. It was a great way to spend a weekend night.
I was reluctant to post yet another Ina recipe, but this one was too good to pass up. 
The combination of sweet butternut squash, tart cranberries, peppery arugula and the crunch of toasted walnuts are wonderful!  Dress them with the warm cider vinaigrette and you're in business. I had so much left-over dressing (not sure why), that I made two more servings of the salad tonight and will use the remainder of the dressing on this week's salads. 
This salad is great for an early spring picnic or a late fall dinner, just make sure to assemble it right before eating.  

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette (Courtesy of Ina Garten, Back to Basics)
Serves 4
1 (1 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and 3/4-inch) diced
Good olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup walnuts halves, toasted (about 4-5 minutes in a fry pan on medium-low heat)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (In the photos I used the large side on a box grater. The next time I made this salad, I finely grated the cheese-- that's my preference going forward.)

1/2 extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Barefoot in Paris: Ina's Provencal Vegetable Soup Au Pistou

Spring is in the air and that means that lighter dishes are on their way back to my kitchen. Not too light of course, but I tend to do away with the heavy stews and super-rich pastas that are the staple my winter cooking. This soup is the perfect transition dish because it feels hearty and light at the same time. It also has a spring freshness thanks to the pistou, a pesto-like sauce that infuses the soup with fresh basil, tomato and garlic. Unlike the Italian pesto, however, there are no pine nuts. This recipe also adapts the traditional version, as it contains leeks. I think they really work here. 
I made this for lunch today and I was unable to limit myself to just one bowl. Oh yes, I went in for doubles. It's that kind of wonderful. 
In addition to the great flavor, I have most of the ingredients in my pantry or fridge: onions, olive oil, leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, pepper, broth, spaghetti and parmesan. And I happen to have saffron threads on hand thanks to my husband's aunt who just returned from a trip to the Middle-East and came back with spice gifts for me.
Hope you enjoy the soup as much as I did... 

Provencal Vegetable Soup Au Pistou (Courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris) 
Yields 6 to 8
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
  • 3 cups 1/2-inch-diced unpeeled boiling potatoes(1 pound)
  • 3 cups 1/2-inch-diced carrots (1 pound)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 quarts homemade chicken stock or canned broth (I use vegetable stock)I sometimes substitute part of the broth with water. 
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 pound haricots verts, ends removed and cut in 1/2 (I went in 1/3 for smaller pieces)
  • 4 ounces spaghetti, broken in pieces
  • 1 cup Pistou, recipe follows
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving


Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot, add the onions, and saute over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, and pepper and saute over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and saffron, bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Add the haricots verts and spaghetti, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 more minutes.

To serve, whisk 1/4 cup of the pistou into the hot soup, then season to taste. Depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock, you may need to add up to another tablespoon of salt. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and more pistou.

4 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
24 large basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup good olive oil
Place the garlic, tomato paste, basil, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and puree. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube to make a paste. Pack into a container, pour a film of olive oil on top, and close the lid.
Yield: 1 cup

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Roman Treat, Part I: Lemon Spaghetti

The other day I had the most intense craving for pasta with lemon. It was really, really intense. It was almost as bad as the time I had a craving for Steve's Key Lime Pie and contemplated going out during a blizzard to get one. Anyway, back to the pasta...
I thought about adding artichokes and white wine to my pasta with lemon, but after doing an inventory check, I was out of luck. I didn't have those ingredients in my pantry and going out at 8 p.m. wasn't an option. So I took out my copy of "Everyday Italian," confident that I would be able to find something I could adapt. I had tons of lemons and spaghetti so that's where I was going to start.
After thumbing through the cookbook for about 2 seconds, I stumbled upon "Lemon Spaghetti."  Fantastic!  Could the stars be any more perfectly aligned?!  Only a few ingredients were needed in addition to the pasta and lemon, and I had all of them on hand (olive oil, parmesan, salt, pepper and basil leaves).  
This is not the most complex or unique pasta to come out of my kitchen, but it is unbelievably simple to make and the lemon-citrus flavor just pops.  It's like "light comfort food," if there is such a thing, and it hit the spot.   I paired it with Giada's Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons (featured in this post).  I made the polenta the day before and it was sitting in the refrigerator.  All I had to do was heat it up in a fry pan, with a little bit of oil, over low heat.   I chopped up some romaine lettuce, thinly sliced some sun-dried tomatoes, grated a bit of parmesan and toasted some pine nuts.  The vinaigrette, which contains fresh lemon juice, was made in about 2 minutes and dinner was served in no-time at all.  
Tip:  When you need to extract juice from a lemon, roll the fruit back and forth a few times to release the juice.  I see Giada do this all the time on her show...
Bon Appetito! 

Lemon Spaghetti (Courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis)

Serves 6.  


  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2/3 cup olive oil (I used a little bit less...some where between 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup)
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves


Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes (I let my pasta cook for 10). Meanwhile, whisk the oil, parmesan, and lemon juice in a large bowl to blend.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the lemon sauce, and the reserved cooking liquid, adding 1/4 cup at a time as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon zest and chopped basil.

Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons 
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lentil Soup with Caraway, Coriander and Minted Yogurt

Inspired by my initial foray into Indian cooking, I've decided to make this Indian-inspired dish which was published in this month's Saveur magazine. It comes from a recipe in River Cottage Everyday and flavors red lentils with caraway and coriander. And in addition to getting some health benefits from eating this yummy soup, your house will turn incredible fragrant in the process. I've been making some time-consuming recipes recently, but this one is quick and requires minimal clean-up. I made the soup in my trusty dutch oven and used the immersion blender to purée it. Pretty simple.  
Lentil Soup with Caraway and Minted Yogurt (Published in Saveur Magazine, March 2011)
Serves 6
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 tsp. caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5 tbsp. Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint
Toasted flat bread or pita, for serving


1. Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add coriander, caraway, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add stock and lentils and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft, 15–20 minutes.
2. Transfer soup to a food processor or blender and, working in batches, purée until smooth. Return soup to the pot and keep warm over low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. To garnish, stir together yogurt and some of the mint in a bowl; set aside for 10 minutes to marry flavors. Divide soup between 6 bowls, top with a dollop of the yogurt, and sprinkle with the remaining mint. Serve soup with flat bread.

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