Monday, December 16, 2013

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

Well, it seems that the cheesecake went over well at a lovely Christmas party we were lucky enough to attend. It was a great evening with a huge amount of delicious food, and plenty of wine to accompany. It was the first time I had made a salted caramel cheesecake, so I was experimenting a bit. I had posted a while back about cheesecakes and how I'm very particular, so when I bake a plain cheesecake I bake it low and slow, 235° for 4-4 1/2 hours. It comes out with a nice consistency, somewhere between a dryer New York style and a lighter fluffy cheesecake. It also does not brown or crack. Some people put a sour cream topping on their plain cheesecake which covers up any browning or cracking, and that's fine. I do not, so low and slow it is. When I make a 2-layer cheesecake, I use a water bath. It bakes faster and turns out great, but somehow it does not work as well for a plain cheesecake. I suppose I could bake the plain in 2 layers...but that's for a later experiment. For now, suffice it to say, that low and slow has served me well for many moons. For this cheesecake, I used my basic recipe (minus lemon juice) and added 1 C of my salted caramel (see an earlier post "Salted Caramel"). So here it is:

Preheat oven to 325°

2 C biscotti crumbs (or graham cracker for a more traditional method, I find the biscotti to make a nice firm crust)
6 T melted butter

2 lbs cream cheese (I like Philadelphia, some say they cannot tell the difference, maybe it's a placebo affect, but I believe I can tell the difference. Also, cream cheese needs to be at room temp).
1 1/2 C sugar
3/4 C sour cream (low fat will have a somewhat negative affect on the outcome)
4 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/2 t salt
1 C salted caramel

Mix crumbs and butter, place in 10" springform and pat down into place, use a flat bottomed object (I use a metal 4-Cup measure) to tamp crust down even tighter. Bake for 10-15 minutes, let cool. Turn oven down to 235°.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and salt on low, stopping to scrape frequently. Add vanilla, sour cream, and caramel (you may need to warm it up a bit depending on how thick your caramel came out, if you do, make sure it's not too warm or it will affect the cream cheese, also add caramel before eggs in case it is too warm, so eggs don't cook). Once caramel is cool and incorporated add eggs, keep mixing on low, scraping bowl frequently. Scrape into pre-baked crust. Put 8x8 pan of water on bottom rack, then bake cheesecake for about 4 hours or until center is slightly puffed up. 

For this cheesecake, once cooled, I then took about 1/3-1/2 c more of the salted caramel and added a thin layer to the top, and put in fridge to set before cutting. You can see in the pics that I had done the first one as a 2-layer, and also where I drizzled some caramel on top before baking (my mistake, as the caramel made it's way down into the cheesecake. Do what I say not what I do sort of thing?). So, my next one is done as I described above. 

Ah, nothing like a spastic spider web design, we hid my mistake, though...

Buon Appetito!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Back from a brief sabbatical with Cassatelle

I've taken a brief hiatus as I try to figure out what to post, how to post it, and when...So, here is a recipe in progress that will undoubtedly get updated a few times. While in Sicily, Sarah and I stopped in a lovely town called Trapani on our way to Erice (a-ree-chay), a walled city thousands of years old on a cliff, amazing. More on that later perhaps. While in Trapani, we stopped at a coffee shop (since the culture is geared to have espresso several times a day, and they did not have to twist our arms). On that, the coffee there was amazing, too. I often think about our trip and wonder if the "amazingness" of everything we ate and drank was due in part to the awe of being in Sicily, or that it really was that much better...I'm inclined to lean towards the latter...Anyway, while at that coffee shop, we had a cassatelle, a fried pastry filled with ricotta and chocolate chips, again, amazing. It's almost like a cannoli, but it's an enclosed pastry as opposed to a tube, and it's softer. Let me interject one thing here, though. I have never had ricotta like I did in Sicily. As a matter of fact, I can't find it here and it's a bummer. It's made from sheep's milk instead of cows milk and it has so much more and better flavor. It's creamier, and tangier, and incredible-er...I recently looked up a bunch of recipes to try to find a pastry similar to what we had, and found cassatelle. I combined a few of the recipes and made my first attempt. As a disclaimer, I will say that, it's supposed to be fried and I baked them. There is always a risk in baking a dough that is supposed to be fried. I will probably attempt a fried version at some point, and also work on the dough for the baked version. The flavor was great, but they were a bit tough. Again, a risk with baking a dough that is supposed to be fried. Another issue it that several recipes call for marsala wine (much like cannoli shell recipes) or a white wine. Since we had white and not marsala, that's what I used. I think I will get marsala next time, though. The flavor is really great. Here we go:


3 1/2 C AP flour sifted (a softer cake flour might do well with a baked version)
1/3 C sugar
1/4 C vegetable oil
3 T Marsala (or white wine)
2 T lemon juice
1 T pure orange extract
pinch of salt
1/2 C water (or more as necessary)
Zest of 1 orange


24 oz ricotta (Hung overnight unless it's extremely thick. I use a cheesecloth in a strainer, in a bowl. I find that of the typical market ricotta's, Polly-O seems to work well, although I have always liked BelGioioso products if I can find them)

3/4 C powdered sugar

4 oz chocolate chips (I used mini's this time. I also like to use a decent brand like Ghirardelli, which until you get into the really good, high-end chocolates is sufficient)

1 T pure orange extract

Zest of 1 orange

1 egg for crimping

*Note: Many recipes did not call for orange zest and extract, but I like it and think it pairs well with chocolate and ricotta.    

Preheat oven to 350°, line baking sheets with parchment.

When mixing the dough, mix on low and only as much as is necessary, this type of dough can get tough from over mixing. It's not like a bread dough that can and should be kneaded. Sift flour and add all dough ingredients to mixer bowl. Mix on low just until ball is formed. Let rest covered for 30 minutes.

Resting dough

Mix the hung ricotta with powdered sugar, extract, and zest. on low/medium. Add chocolate and mix as little as possible.
Roll out dough to about 1/8th in thick (I used the pasta machine), cut into circles (I used a 6" bowl). Brush egg on outside of the dough rounds, place filling in the center, fold over into half moon shapes and crimp with a fork.


Ready to roll, always have extra flour on hand


6" rounds, but make any size you like

Waiting for filling

Egg painted on edge, ready to crimp

Sprinkled with course sugar, ready for baking

I brushed the leftover egg wash on the tops to give them a bit of a golden finish while baking. I baked for 30-35 minutes or until just golden. 


Buon Appetito!

Monday, December 2, 2013


Well, here we are post Thanksgiving, and pre-Christmas. Not much chance for a lull, though. Our Decembers are always busy. We have 3 birthdays (mommy-18th, son-21st, daughter-27th) and Christmas (25th of course) all within a 10 day span. Not to mention, the work Christmas parties, friends parties, church, etc, etc. Apparently we did not plan that well...Anyway, it's always busy, but usually fun. In light of that upcoming frenzy, and given that our out of town family had to cancel their Turkey Day trip to see us, we decided to head out of town, save ourselves a lot of work, and just relax. Thanks to my brother's long time work with Marriott, we are able to get away and get a great rate...yes, we probably have abused him due to said discount, but I am sure he forgives us. We took meemaw and the 2 kids and headed to Wrightsville Beach, NC. As I said it was a relaxing time, and the very first time we had ever done anything like it for Thanksgiving. We found a restaurant that served a family style traditional Thanksgiving meal and everything. A good time was had by all. We toured a battleship, the USS North Carolina, trudged through several shops, walked along the river, found some great Greek food, and played games in our hotel (even got a call from the front desk at 10:30 one night asking us to keep it down, ironic since we're usually not the loud, late night types). I'm not sure we could make it into a tradition as we might start to miss the big gatherings, but it made a few good memories. So, sorry, no recipes today. I just wanted to say, we should all remember to be thankful for what we have every day, not just once a year, and look forward to the good times ahead. Try something new once in a while. I hope everyone had a wonderful Turkey Day.

Anthony and meemaw, he's a little downhill, and she's wearing heels, but he's already passed her up on the old height


Val testing a top bunk on the USS NC

Torpedos bigger than him...

Turkey Day meal, quite good and no cooking or clean up! 

For those who did not see on FB, I was sitting outside a shop waiting for my wife. I started talking to an elderly guy doing caricatures. When My wife finally returned, and I got up to go, he handed me this , no charge. I didn't even see him drawing. We left a good tip, though. Nice guy.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, and may we all remember the real reason for the upcoming season.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pumpkin Cake

This is an old recipe I have had for a long time and recently dug it out for a requested birthday cake. We have made it a few times since and it seems to be a crowd pleaser. One of my biggest pet peeves is dry cake. I hate it. This one is not. The pumpkin really makes it nice and moist.

Before I type out the recipe, and before I'm tempted to take more credit than what is due me...I gladly admit that my wife is a cake decorator from way back (sorry hon, not that far back...). She doesn't get to do it much these days, but she is very good at it. Which is a great thing, since I love to cook and bake and share recipes, but I do not decorate. She make my stuff look better.

Here we go:


2 C of sugar
1 C vegetable oil I do have an old olive oil cake recipe I need to dig up again)
4 large eggs
2 C AP flour
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
1 t ginger (ground, powdered)
1/2 t salt
2 C pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease (I used butter) and flour 2 9" rounds (I use spring forms). Mix the sugar, oil, eggs, and salt, thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and ginger, stir. Slowly, with the mixer on low, start adding dry ingredients. Scrape at least once, but don't over mix as cake batters can get tough. Add pumpkin, mix on low, scrape, and mix a little more. Pour into the 2 prepared pans and bake for 35-45 minutes or until slightly browned with a concave top and toothpick comes out clean. 


1 stick butter, room temp (1/4 lb, 1/2 c)
1/4 c shortening
1, 8 oz brick cream cheese (Philadelphia has better consistency and taste)
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/4 t salt
Colored course sugar crystals optional (as you see in the pic, we used gold)

Mix all ingredients on low, scrape at least once.
We typically do a 2-layer, but we did a 4-layer this time. If you do what we did you will need at least 1 1/2 to 2 times the frosting recipe. My wife did the decorating, as I said, and it looked great. It also tasted great. You will also need to cut the curved top layer off to make it level, see pic below.

In this particular cake, we used some leftover salted caramel I had just made and separated the frosting into plain and caramel. See the 2 colors above. That recipe can be found in an earlier post, "Salted Caramel".

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Quotable Quotes #2

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found.  ~Calvin Trillin

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.  ~Joan Gussow

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.  ~Federico Fellini

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  ~Michael Pollan

A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money.  Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.  ~P.J. O'Rourke

The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry again.  ~George Miller

Fish, to taste right, must swim three times - in water, in butter, and in wine.  ~Polish Proverb

Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.  ~Harriet Van Horne, "Not for Jiffy Cooks," Vogue magazine, 1956

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.  ~Clifton Fadiman

To the old saying that man built the house but woman made of it a "home" might be added the modern supplement that woman accepted cooking as a chore but man has made of it a recreation.  ~Emily Post

A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe. ~Thomas Keller

Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures.  It is not coincidence that we say bread is the staff of life.  ~Lionel Poilane

A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.  ~Old New York Proverb

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.  ~Alfred E. Newman

Rice is born in water and must die in wine.  ~Italian Proverb

There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won't, and that's a wife who can't cook and will.  ~Robert Frost

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quotable quotes #1

Vegetables are a must on a diet.  I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.  ~Jim Davis

Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?  ~Author Unknown

Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.  ~Author Unknown

It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.  ~Robert Fuoss

As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices:  take it or leave it.  ~Buddy Hackett

Edible, adj.:  Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.  ~Ambrose Bierce

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

My favorite animal is steak.  ~Fran Lebowitz

When baking, follow directions.  When cooking, go by your own taste.  ~Laiko Bahrs

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.  ~Josh Billings

Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.  ~Fran Lebowitz

A bagel is a doughnut with the sin removed.  ~George Rosenbaum

I don't think America will have really made it until we have our own salad dressing.  Until then we're stuck behind the French, Italians, Russians and Caesarians.  ~Pat McNelis

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Alternative Stuffing/Dressing

Well, it's getting close to turkey day and while we will be out of town this year and not making a ginormous meal at home, I thought I might share one of the dishes we typically make. We were asked to be a part of our churches youth group early thanksgiving so we had the chance to make a few things early. We elected to make our couscous stuffing/dressing and a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. Maybe I'll post something about the cake sometime. For now, however, here's what I did: *Disclaimer first: as I often "disclaim", the hardest part is measurements as I often make dishes by tossing a bit of this and a bit of that. I will try to get close approximations, though.
So, way back when, I was perusing ideas for a stuffing idea that wasn't the cliche typical stuffing of Thanksgiving's gone by, and I came across a recipe using couscous instead of bread. I have since adapted it countless times and rarely make it the same way twice. This is what I did today:

Couscous (I was making a big batch, so I did 4 C broth, 4 C couscous)

Chicken broth, 4 C

Italian sausage, 6 links (I used sweet this time, although I prefer hot)

Toasted pecans, about 1 C

2 whole garlic bulbs

Mushrooms, about 1# sliced

Roasted red peppers, 12oz-15oz jar, julienned (I roast my own often, but did not have time. I will post something about that sometime).

Dried cranberries, about 1 C

Grilled fennel, 1 bulb

Rosemary, thyme, salt, garlic, black pepper. (I always season any stock I'm using, whether for rice, couscous, polenta, etc.)

Cook the Italian sausage and slice (I use scissors and tongs) and set aside. Toast the pecans in a frying pan, set aside. Roast the garlic in the oven with a little olive oil and salt @ about 350° for 20 minutes or so, let cool. Cook mushrooms in a frying pan with a little butter and salt, set aside to cool, then chop slices. Cut fennel bulb into slices and grill with a little olive oil and salt (I used a grill pan on the stove). Let cool and chop.
Heat chicken stock in a pan with rosemary, black pepper, thyme, granulated garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil, add couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for about 5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.
Add all ingredients in a large bowl, along with cranberries and roasted peppers, stir. I typically add another cup or so of chicken stock before I out it in a roasting pan to heat. Cover roasting pan with foil, heat about 300° for 30 minutes or so. Since everything is cooked, you don't want to cook it more or to dry out. That's all folks. It seemed to be a big hit. Also, be creative, maybe add apples or almonds instead of pecans, or sun-dried tomatoes perhaps...Enjoy, experiment!


Roasting garlic

Italian sausage from my bro in MA, the best!


Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My first beef wellington.

Complicated. That's the word that comes to mind. However, the flavors were amazing. First, I need to admit that I know very little about English food, and the stigma of it may or may not have any truth to it. All I know is that this was originally from England, and it tasted great.
Once again, I perused many recipes, watched a few short clips and then just had to wing it. This recipe should be reserved for special events, since, as I said it's complicated, but also expensive. It's best to look for tenderloin on sale. For those who may not know what beef wellington is, it's a tenderloin wrapped in some type of ham, along with a mushroom filling, then wrapped in puff pastry dough. Here we go:


Beef tenderloin (I used 1.5 lbs for our family of four)

Mushrooms (about a half a lb was sufficient, but then you cannot have too many shrooms. Also, I used the typical white, you can use your favorite)

Shallots, about 3 bulbs (many recipes did not call for them, but some did. They are more mild and a bit sweeter than onions)

Prosciutto (1/4 lb thinly sliced. Some recipes call for Serrano ham, some for Prosciutto)

Yellow mustard (classic recipes call for an English mustard, not stoneground, but regular old yellow works fine)

Puff pastry, 1 sheet (I bought mine)

Salt, pepper, garlic to taste (course ground sea salt)

2 eggs beaten

Here's what I did. Preheat oven to 400°

Finely chopped the shallots and cook them down with a little olive oil and salt, then set them aside.

Then using a food processor, very finely chop the mushrooms, almost to a puree, but not quite. Using a dry frying pan (no fat) cook the mushrooms down, on medium to high heat, to get all the water out. This step is extremely important, shrooms are like sponges and the filling would be way too runny if this was not done

Set aside the mushrooms to cool and add olive oil to the pan. Season the beef tenderloin with salt, garlic, and black pepper on all sides (including the ends). In the hot pan, sear all sides, including ends of tenderloin and set aside to rest. Before it cools, brush mustard on the whole surface of the loin and let cool. 

Lay out plastic wrap on the counter and line with the prosciutto, then spread the mushroom puree and the shallots over it. Once it's spread evenly, place the loin on top and roll the whole thing as tight as possible, using the plastic wrap to help roll and then cover. Twist the ends of the plastic tightly and place in the fridge to completely cool and maintain it's shape. 

Lay out, or roll out the puff pastry (however you buy it or make it) on a floured surface. Remove plastic wrap from the prosciutto covered loin and then roll loin in the puff pastry. Use the beaten eggs to seal the pastry. Make sure it's wrapped tightly and all seams are crimped. Place on a parchment paper covered sheet pan. Brush the remaining egg wash over the entire dough. Using the back of a knife, lightly score the top (do not cut through). Sprinkle the top with course ground sea salt.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until golden brown (not too much longer as the loin should be a medium rare inside). Let rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting. 

So, there you have it. Seem complicated? It is. Like I said, this is special occasion material. You may notice that I baked on a foil covered baking sheet, but I would highly recommend parchment as I said in the directions, it stuck a bit. Anyway, I learned a few things and the flavor was amazing. Kudos to the English cuisine, I guess. 

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2 ingredient fudge

I know, I know, it's cheating a bit, but this turned out pretty good. This fudge has only 2 ingredients and no real cooking. Here it is:

1 1/2 bags chocolate chips (11.5 oz size)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)

Put the sweetened condensed milk in a microwaveable bowl along with the chocolate chips. Microwave for 1 minute, stir, then microwave again for about 30 seconds, stir well and scrape into an 8 x 8 pan lined with parchment. Let cool in the fridge for at least an hour.
So, your microwave is different so whatever it takes to just melt the chips. Do not let it go too long as the chips will burn. The cooling may take longer as well, depending on the type of pan, fridge setting, etc. Let cool until firm and able to be cut.

Since the holidays are upon us, it's nice to have some simple recipes, too. Of course, I'm telling myself this to assuage the guilt of cheating on the fudge...

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ricotta Cookies

I remember these cookies, among several others, that we used to get at the Italian bakery with grandma. The way I remember them, they had little multi-colored round sprinkles on top. I've been perusing the recipe-shere and adapted several recipes into one I liked. The basic recipe is pretty standard and straightforward with little variance,  but, like the shortbread cookies I posted about in the past, these are extremely versatile. Once you get the base recipe down, then you can venture out and experiment with different flavors. This time, I used almond extract in the cookie dough as well as in the icing. Here are the ingredients:

Cookie Dough:

2 C sugar
1/2 lb butter (1 C/2 sticks)
1 lb ricotta cheese (a 15oz container is fine)
2 eggs (preferably large)
4 C AP flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt (I use only sea salt now)
1 t pure vanilla extract (never use imitation extract)
2 t pure almond extract


3 C powdered sugar
1/2 C milk
2 t pure almond extract

Heat the oven to 350°

I use a stand mixer for this.

Cream butter and sugar,  add ricotta, vanilla, almond, salt, and eggs, mix until creamy. Add flour (on low to avoid catastrophe), baking soda, and baking powder. Scrape at least once, but don't over mix as they can get tough.

I used a cookie scoop, and this time made 2 different sizes, just for experimenting sake.

Now, here's a fun fact. I looked at a bunch of recipes before coming up with mine and there was quite a mixed bag concerning the cookie sheet, greased or un-greased. There was more of a general consensus on parchment paper, though, and since this is a sticky dough, I would recommend parchment.

The scoop in the picture is a #50, but I also used a #30. With the smaller scoop I would have had about 11 doz, and with the bigger scoop, about 4 doz.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until just starting to get a very light brown, these are easy to over bake, so keep an eye on them.

Let cool on wire racks and then ice.


3 C powdered sugar
1/2 C milk
2 t almond extract

As I said, these are versatile. You can substitute the almond extract (and vanilla) for lemon in the dough and icing, add lemon zest to both and voila, lemon ricotta. Or do the same with orange extract and orange zest. Be creative. 

Buon Appetito!