Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kabocha Squash Cheesecake

This is a cheesecake I've made a few times now that is always good but, man, it's rich, so beware. I found it in the SF Chronicle a few years ago and it was attributed to a pastry chef, Cydne Kane, at the Rivoli restaurant in Berkeley. The keys to this, IMO, is to use a natural cream cheese if you can find it (I avoid those with gum, like Kraft Philadelphia), and to use a fresh winter squash like kabocha, not canned pumpkin.

Note that it is best made a day ahead so that the cooked cake can set in the refrigerator overnight, but I've had success making it in the morning and allowing it a few hours in the frig as well.

Smashed ginger snaps and toasted pecans

Crust after baking

Beating the cream cheese

Pureed squash

Batter after adding the sour cream

Cake just prior to baking

1½ cups finely ground gingersnap cookies
½ cup toasted and finely ground pecans
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted

1½ pounds natural cream cheese
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground ginger
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
¾ cup sour cream
1½ cups kabocha squash puree from about 2 pounds squash *
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

1½ cups sour cream
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

* Although pumpkin comes in a can I highly recommend getting a real kabocha squash and following the directions below to prepare it


Prepare the squash by halving it, scooping out the seeds, placing cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and baking at 400° until soft, about 30-45 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and puree in a blender.

Preheat oven to 350°.
I prepare the crust by putting the gingersnaps in a large ziplock plastic bag and lightly smashing them with a mallet, then doing the same separately with the toasted pecans. I then measure each again as the ingredients call for the measurements after each has been ground. I finish by processing them together in a food processor.
In a bowl, stir together the ground gingersnaps and pecans. Add the butter and stir to blend. Press evenly onto the bottom and about ½ inch up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake 15 minutes. Remove and reduce oven temperature to 325°. 

In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed until smooth.
This took longer than I expected when I first did this. the key is to be patient and keep the speed low - it should take about 10 minutes before it gets smooth.
In a bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt until well-blended. Add to cream cheese and mix on low to medium speed until blended. Add the sour cream and mix until blended. Add the squash puree, brown sugar, molasses, and vanilla and mix until blended, scraping the bowl once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared crust, spreading it evenly.
Bake until it is mostly set but still a little jiggly in the center, 50-60 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before applying the topping.

Whisk the ingredients together and spread evenly over the cheesecake. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack, then refrigerate overnight.

Remove the outer cake pan ring. Cut thin slices with a hot knife.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pasta with Sausage in Tomato Sauce

Made this last week and shared some leftovers with some co-workers, one of whom wanted the recipe. So here we go.

1 can 28 oz Muir Glen Plum Tomatoes (or 3-4 fresh peeled tomatoes *only* if in season)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 carrot peeled and shredded
1-2 cloves garlic crushed
2 Italian sausages peeled and crumbled
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound gemelli or penne

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic until translucent. Make a space in the middle of the skillet and add the crumbled sausage, sauteing it until their liquid has been cooked out. Make a space in the middle again and add the tomato paste allowing it to caramelize for a minute or so. Combine all the ingredients in the skillet then add the tomatoes and mix all together with a wooden spoon, breaking up the tomatoes as you do so.
Allow to cook at a lively simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Fill a large pot with 4 quarts water, salt it, then bring to a boil about 10 minutes before the sauce is done. Add the pasta. About a minute before the pasta is done, reserve some of the pasta water aside, drain the pasta and add to the sauce allowing it to finish the last minute of cooking in the sauce, adding some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems dry.
Serve and enjoy, leftovers should last in the frig for a few days.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lenten Walnut Cake (Karydopita Nistisimi)

One of my favorite cookbooks is The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. I think it was published in the mid-90's when the medical community started making noise about the studies they'd found regarding the health of old timers in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and attributed it to the traditional fare there. I still agree that it generally is the healthiest way to eat and is one of, if not my favorite cuisine to both cook and eat. I'm still mining the book for new discoveries as well as from books by Paula Wolfort and Patricia Wells.

This recipe is a great find I had while looking for light and flavorful desserts. It seems to be a complicated deal when you look at the list of ingredients but once you've cooked it, it really is a fairly simple recipe. What struck me about the dish is that it is similar to baklava with the honey-based syrup that dresses it.

Olive oil for greasing the pan

½ cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup brandy
½ sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped into 1½ cups
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

½ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the over to 375°. Using a paper towel dipped in olive oil, grease a 9-inch round springform pan.
Make the syrup: Boil the sugar and honey with the water for 15-20 minutes until it is reduced to about ¾ cup. Off the hear, mix in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
Add the baking soda to the brandy. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves, tossing to mix well. Make a well in the center. Pour in the oil, orange juice, and brandy and gradually mix together, stirring with a wooden spoon. Mix in the nuts, bread crumbs, and orange zest and pur the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the cake is firm in the center and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

When the cake is done and while it is still hot, pour the cold syrup over it and set aside in the cake pan to cool. Over very low heat, melt the jam with 2 tablespoons of water, stirring constantly. When the cake is cool, remove the springform and brush the apricot topping over the cake.

Chicken Livers and Onions

I was never big on liver, in fact I pretty much have always hated it. However I kind of liked chopped liver in Jewish delis and didn't much mind liverwurst when I was a kid so I guess when my wife kept it aside whenever we cooked a whole chicken and relished the liver on her own, I thought I should give it another shot.

I found some interesting recipes with chicken livers, here's one with onions.

Caramelized onions

Livers after cleaning

Sautéing the livers in butter and oil




Serving the side dish

1 large onion
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 pound chicken livers
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Slice the onion very thinly in half-moons. Heat a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion slices to the pan and sauté until caramelized, then sprinkle the vinegar on and remove from the heat.
Clean the livers by taking each and removing the thin membrane from it using a paper towel to rub it off. As each is cleaned, put aside into a bowl. This may take some time but it's worth the trouble.
When you're done cleaning them, season with salt and pepper.
In a separate skillet, over a high heat, add the butter and remaining oil. Once the butter has stopped foaming, start adding the livers into the skillet. Do in batches if you need to in order to avoid crowding them.
Once the livers are done, heat up the skillet with onion slices again and, when hot, add the cooked livers to heat everything up together just before serving.

We served this with polenta and a chard-cauliflower side dish.