Monday, March 29, 2010

chocolate cranberry cheesecake

I have a friend from China.  We love to cook together.  I teach her how to make American food, and she teaches me how to make Chinese food.    We started our friendship by making 156 sugar cookies, complete with multiple colors of frosting.  That was five years ago.  Since then, we've made meatloaf (in the shape of a rat...her idea, not mine), chocolate chip cookie dough pie, Sprite bread, bean and pasta soup, fresh pumpkin soup, cheesy potatoes, and many other dishes that I can't even recall at the moment.  It's a wonderful thing. :-)

This past weekend, we made stuffed bell peppers (a Chinese recipe), vegetable couscous (my recipe), and a chocolate cranberry cheesecake (inspired by an American cookbook).  It was all delicious!

Here's the recipe for our amazing dessert...

First, we made our own whole berry cranberry sauce.  We combined one cup of frozen cranberries (partially thawed) and 3/4 cup water in a pan and brought them to a boil. 


You want to boil the cranberries until the skins pop open, about 5 minutes.  At that point, remove them from the heat and add a dash of allspice, a dash of cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract, and a half cup of sugar.  Mix it all together, making sure the sugar dissolves.  We chose to also add a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin to make the mixture a bit thicker (this is completely optional).

Put the cranberry mixture in the refrigerator to cool off while you work on the crust.  For the crust, we ground up some chocolate cookies until we had 1 1/3 cup of crumbs (oh, how I wished I had a food processor while doing this).  We used Newman's O's - they don't contain high fructose corn syrup.

Combine the cookie crumbs with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup melted butter.

Pat the filling into the bottom of a 9" springform pan.  If you can, press the crumbs up the sides of the pan about 1-inch.  This requires finely ground cookie crumbs - without a food processor, I was able only to achieve moderately ground crumbs.  Alas!

Now it's time for the filling!

Combine 2 packages of cream cheese and 1/2 cup of sugar until smooth. 

Add 3/4 cup sour cream and 1 tablespoon cornstarch - beat well.  Add 2 eggs, lightly beaten - beat slowly until combined.

At this point, pull the cranberry sauce out of the refrigerator.  Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the cranberries.  You want a little juice, but not too much...

Fold one cup of the cranberries into the cheesecake batter.

Pour over the crust and smooth the top.

Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes, or until the edges are raised and the middle is almost set (we had to bake ours 10-15 minutes longer).  Wait 10 minutes after removing from oven and then run a knife around the edges of the pan.  Cool for an hour longer, and then refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, drizzle each slice with fudge topping for that extra special touch.

Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake
cranberry sauce:
8 oz. cranberries
3/4 cup water
dash allspice
dash cloves
1/4 t. orange extract
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/3 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup hot fudge ice cream topping, warmed

In a medium saucepan, bring cranberries and water to a boil.  Boil until the skin of the berries pops open, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add allspice, cloves, orange extract, and sugar.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Cool in refrigerator.

For the crust, combine wafer crumbs, sugar, and butter in a small bowl.  Press into the bottom and one inch the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Add sour cream and cornstarch, beating well.  Add eggs, and beat on low speed just until combined.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon one cup of cranberry sauce into mixture; fold in.  Pour into crust.

Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes or until the center is almost set.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen; cool one hour longer.  Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, drizzle pieces with chocolate topping.

Friday, March 26, 2010

food photography

My blogger friend over at Designs by Gollum is conducting a food photography contest right now, and thinking about my own entry has made me a bit reminiscent for the days when I didn't know how to take pictures of food...4 months ago.  Remember this?

The best buttermilk pancakes in the world, and I have to show them off like's like I had pushed the plate as far away from me as if it was plutonium and not my favorite breakfast of all time.  What was I thinking??? 

I've learned a lot since that blog post.  So in light of Gollum's theme of photography tips, here's my own collection...

Get close to your subject!  This has to be the number one lesson I've learned.  If I treated these sweet potatoes like I had treated my pancakes, you'd miss out on all of their delicious beauty.

Get the optimal mix of colors in your photo.  I seriously fluffed this dish with a fork for about 10 minutes until I had just the right mix of cranberry, carrot, celery, and couscous showing through.  If it had been a sea of couscous with one sad little cranberry sticking up...well, you would have just felt sorry for the lonely cranberry...

Food with delightful insides always looks better with the insides showing.  Forget taking pictures of the outsides of wraps, burritos, and turnovers - break them open!  Invite your guests to just smell the apple and see the flakes of the crust after you've broken it...hmmmm! 

Same principle goes for bread...slice it up!  Show it's functionality (this bread makes great sandwiches) as well as its beautiful outer crust. 

More is better.  I've learned never to showcase just one piece of food unless it's worth getting really up close (like my sweet potato).  In many cases, it's best just to show the whole this pita.  This picture brings back those feelings that I used to have as a kid when I'd look at a play area full of those little balls....I just want to dive right on in!

When showcasing a soup, highlight the food and not the broth.  A picture of a bowl of broth...not appetizing.  But, if you drain a bit of the broth out and get the yummy goodness that is the heart of the soup...well, now that's a meal worth photographing!

Put it on your plate.  While some meals look good in their original just-been-pulled-from-the-oven state, most look best after they've been served.  Take this chicken pot pie - in it's original dish, all you could see was a crust.  The crust was lovely, Pioneer Woman would just doesn't make my skirt fly up.  Put it on a plate, though...

Go for a little bokeh.  Bokeh is a photography term that refers to the fact that part of the picture is in focus and part of it is out of focus.  This is a great technique for food!  In this photo, the piece of vegetable tart in the foreground is in focus, but you can still see the rest of the slightly out-of-focus behind it.  It's a way to artistically get all of your food into one photo.  My favorite thing about it - it draws the eye to what's this case, to that flaky crust-filled goodness!

So, that's what I've learned.  I'm no professional photographer.  In fact, I'm not even sure you could call me advanced...or intermediate.  Many of my pictures are still when you can see my shadow on top of the food I'm photographing...

Does my shadow make me look fat???

Nevermind that.  :-)  And good luck on all of your own food photography!  I encourage everyone to check out Design by Gollum's food photography tips (and her lovely food photos...don't view while starving).  The Pioneer Woman also has some great resources, where you can learn all about bokeh, among other things. 

Until then, I'll leave you with one last tip: if a food is delicious, the picture probably will be too...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

simply delicious pot roast

 There are lots of recipes out there for pot roast.  I've tried many of them.  And yet...I keep coming back to this one.  For one, it's my mother's recipe.  But there's other appeals as well - it's got only 5 ingredients, takes less than five minutes to prepare, goes in a slow cooker, and tastes so amazing that my husband put the barbecue sauce back in the refrigerator without ever having to use it.  For him to choose no barbecue sauce...well, let me just tell you, it had better be good meat.

First, you spray the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray...get it nice and coated.

Then add a lean cut of roast beef, first making a cut in the thickest part of the meat.  The size of beef you choose will depend on the size of your slow cooker - obviously, you want it to fit inside.  I generally choose anything inexpensive that has "loin" in its name.  Those work really well for pot roasts.

Add 1/4 cup water... envelope of onion soup mix... onion, cut into large chunks...

...and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

A note about the cream of mushroom soup - if you are going dairy free (or just don't have a can of soup lying around), do what I did.  Make your own!  I found a great recipe for "cream-of-something soup" on Tasty Kitchen.  For this pot roast, I used beef broth and didn't add any mushrooms at only took me 3 minutes, and it worked great! 

At this point, put the lid on and set your slow cooker to high.  After one hour, switch the setting to low and cook for an additional 7 hours (so 8 hours of total cooking time).  When you open the lid for dinner, here's what you'll see:

Hmmmmm....that is one tasty gravy!

Okay, I are probably wondering where all the veggies are.  Don't most pot roasts have veggies?  If you feel the need to put carrots and potatoes in the crock pot with the meat, go right ahead.  Just make sure you put them underneath the meat (carrots on the bottom).  I don't do it because my slow cooker isn't all that big and because I like keeping the meat separate - that way I can use it for sandwiches later on.

I did, however, roast some veggies in the oven for this particular meal.  I mixed some carrots and potatoes in a bowl with a smidgen of olive oil and a few shakes of herbs.

I spread these on a lined cookie sheet and baked at 350 degrees, stirring every so often to keep them from sticking.

And so there you have it.  Tonight's dinner.  And it was soooo easy!

Don't won't need the barbecue sauce.

Simply Delicious Pot Roast

Lean cut of beef (anything that has "loin" in its name)
1/4 cup water
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Spray crock pot with cooking spray.  Make a cut in the thickest part of the meat and place it in the crock pot.  Add the rest of the ingredients in the order listed.  Cook on high for one hour.  Cook on low for an additional seven hours.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

marinated turkey wraps

Ready for a wrap session?  Nope, that's not a typo you see...I really do mean wrap.

You see, I'm not a fan of sandwiches.  Sure, the occasional Subway sandwich fits the bill when you need something fast, but I really dislike homemade sandwiches.  Maybe it's because I'm inept at making them.  Maybe it's because I don't have a full on veggie bar like Subway does.  I don't know.  I'm just not a fan.

But wraps?  That's a different story!  You don't have to stick to deli lunch can put all kinds of fun things in those.  I even find that it's okay to make and assemble wraps in advance - let's the flavors mingle, you know?  Here's one of my favorites...

For this wrap, I made a delicious marinated turkey breast in the slow cooker.  It's so easy, and you have delicious, tender meat for several meals.    You need a 2 1/2 - 3 pound boneless turkey breast and then the marinade ingredients - zest and juice from one lemon, dried rosemary, dried oregano, Dijon mustard, dry white wine, minced garlic, and pepper.

The night before you want to eat this, put the turkey in a glass dish with a lid.

Mix the marinade ingredients together (only takes a minute!) and pour over the top.  Put the lid on and refrigerate overnight.

A note on the marinade - I zest an entire lemon and use all of its juice.  If you aren't so into the citrus flavor, though, feel free to go a bit light (maybe use half a lemon).  That part is flexible.

The previous picture was taken after a night of marinating.  Yum, right?  Okay, haha, I's still raw.  But here's where the cooking part comes in.  Dump it all in your slow cooker, and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  That's it!  And invite company over while it's cooking...your house will smell delightful. :-)

A bonus - after marinating all night, the turkey skin may just slide right off...mine did!

So that's the meat.  But wraps are more than meat...they have lots of goodness in them.  And my favorite thing to add to these particular wraps are sauteed onions (and sometimes peppers).

For two wraps, I chop up a half onion (and, when I have them, peppers).

Saute the onion (and maybe peppers) in a skillet with about a teaspoon of olive oil, lots of oregano (don't be shy with it), and pepper to taste.

You have complete freedom to assemble your wraps however you like.  Here's how I do it:

Mash up a ripe avocado and spread a quarter of it on a softened tortilla.

Top with about 3 ounces of shredded turkey.

Top with half of your cooked onions (and possibly peppers!).

And finally sprinkle a bit of Parmesan on (if you's not necessary, but it adds a nice touch).  At this point my husband also likes to add BBQ sauce or's up to you!

Roll (or wrap) it up, and you are ready for dinner.

Total prep time for the meat : about 5 minutes, not counting the overnight marinade.  Total prep time for the onions: about 5 minutes.  Total time it takes to assemble the wrap: about 2 minutes.  Total minutes of enjoyment: endless.

Can a sandwich be this cool?  I don't think so!

Marinated Turkey Wraps

2 1/2 lb. boneless turkey breast
zest and juice from one lemon
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried oregano
2 T. dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 t. minced garlic
pepper to taste

Place turkey in glass bowl, skin side down.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour over turkey.  Refrigerate overnight.  Cook in slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours.

To make wrap: spread on softened tortilla 1/4 of an avocado (mashed), 3 oz. turkey, 1/4 of an onion (sauteed with oregano and pepper), and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Can also add salsa or BBQ sauce. 

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