Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Amber Colored Cheesecake

Cheesecake is an interesting dessert in that most people you attempt to serve it to will either be outspokenly a fan of any cheesecake that crosses their path, or a vocal cheesecake despiser. Most desert foods don't seem to evoke such feelings, sugar cookies for example seem to receive a medium response from nearly all people. I have always liked cheesecake, but I'm pretty sure it is more reflective of my general love of dairy products than anything else. Yogurt or cheesecake; I would be pretty happy with either.
Last year, while I lived with my roommate Lucy, we baked five six months (we didn't mention this to our doctors). The two of us enjoyed sampling cheesecakes that had some extra pizazz, so I think we ended up making one of each Grapefruit, Lemon, Bailey's Irish Cream, Apple, and Ginger.
Since Monday was the six month anniversary of Nathanael and my marriage I decided to make us a special cheesecake using the re-occurring ingredient which is the mascot of our gardening bounty: pumpkin. I came across this recipe the cookbook, "Simply in Season" by Mary Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, but I altered it just a bit to suit my ingredients. I also concocted the chocolate coconut crust listed below, because we don't really have gram crackers just running around the house. Using coconut instead of crumbs makes this a good celiac alternative, but since coconut is even more widely disliked than cheesecake, feel free to substitute crumbs on the crust recipe and reduce the sugar/cocoa.

Pumpkin Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Coconut Crust
For the crust:
2 cups of flaked coconut
1 cup wheat bran (or more coconut for celiacs)
3 Tablespoons of brown sugar
4 Tablespoons of baking cocoa
4-6 Tablespoons of softened butter (or oil), depending on the absorbency of your coconut.
Mix crust ingredients using a fork or your hands. Combine with a little bit of water and press onto the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes, then let the crust cool until you are ready to fill it.

For the cake:
A. 2 cups low-fat cottage cheese (don't use non-fat, and if you don't have a food processor or blender substitute with low fat sour cream)
20 oz cream cheese, softened (use low or full fat to your discretion, I used some of each)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Puree cottage cheese in blender or food processor until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour into a bowl.

B. 2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix in. Remove 1 1/2 cups batter and set aside

C. 1 1/2 cups pumpkin, cooked and pureed
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Add to the remaining batter

D. 1/3 baking cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips, melted
Add to the reserved batter. Stir until thoroughly blended.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into crust lined pan, then spoon chocolate mixture on top in small rounds; swirl together with a knife. Bake in a preheated oven at 325, in a pan of water (1-2 inches deep) if possible until edge of filling is set, 60-65 minutes. Let cheesecake stand in oven with door closed for 30 minutes. Remove and cool on rack to room temperature, about 3 hours. cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serves 12-16.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Colorful breads.

I have heard the phrase, “Artisan Breads” mentioned here and there in the last few years. Most people really appreciate interesting breads with something unique about them, but few people make anything but ordinary breads at home. There are some good reasons to keep the breads plain. If you make a savory flavored bread, you might want to make peanut butter and jelly. If you make sweet flavored breads you might want to make a turkey and hummus sandwich. I have definitely had this problem, but you know, peanut butter and jelly on curry bread really isn’t so bad.
My Mom has a recipe for vegetable breads, and the one she makes the most is beet bread. I don’t have her recipe, but essentially you exchange some or all of the water in a bread recipe for pureed roasted beets and voila! A brilliant fuchsia bread! My Dad likes to call it safety bread, saying that he could eat a sandwich on beet bread and not need to wear a safety vest even if he was sitting on an airport runway.
If you use canned beets, the bread is still good, but only has a pink crust with a brown interior. This does not have as many safety features.
So, my recommendation is to find yourself a basic bread recipe and start experimenting by exchanging ingredients. Here is my basic bread recipe, followed by some of my favorite variations…

3 T. canola oil
2 T. sugar
1 t. yeast
½ c. water
2/3 c. milk (or more water)
3 c. unbleached flour (or 2 c. flour with 1c. wheat flour)
1 t. salt
Then follow whatever bread things you like to do…
Nathanael actually makes most of the bread in our house, so most of the time if I am making it I put the dough in the bread machine or mixer to be kneaded, then shape it into a long loaf on a cookie sheet. I leave it to rise for 30-40 minutes, cook it at 325 for 35 minutes, and then take it out. Afterward I wrap the half we haven’t eaten for later. (We like warm bread.)

For a softer bread, I exchange the milk for whole milk yogurt.
For colorful breads here are some of the things I have exchanged the milk (or both the milk and water) for…

Pink: Pureed beets (with 1 T. dried basil)
Green: pureed spinach (with dried oregano, parsley and Parmesan cheese)
Orange: pureed pumpkin or carrot
Red: tomato paste (with basil, oregano and Parmesan for a pizza-like bread)
Yellow: keep the liquids as is and add 1 to 2 T. of Madras curry powder
Crunch: for a slight crunch add a few Tablespoons of raw millet to your dough

Madras Curry bread

Beet bread

Beet bread (using canned beets) after baking. When fresh beets are used the deep pink color is retained after baking.

You have my art supplies.

I am going to post my real note in a moment, but I wanted to ask for a bit of help on an art creation that I have been thinking of. Many of you likely received gift cards over the holidays, strange things that they are, and by this time in the new year you are possibly spending them a bit. For some reason I accumulate gift cards rapidly and spend them at such a slow pace that I needed to remove them from my wallet because I couldn't shut it anymore.
I would like to make a gift card mosaic, and though I have a number of my own gift cards they will not cover a whole canvas, even when I do spend them. So, if you are interested, I would like you to save your USED gift cards from the cashiers when they are finished (they are not going to be recycled at the stores) and give or send them to me when you have the chance. Some gift cards have pretty nifty designs, so I am interested to see how I can utilize all of the pieces
When I complete my mosaic I will put it up on the blog and let you know how it went.
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