Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cheesecake, munching on a Cheesecake, munching on a Cheesecake...

I am obsessed! As mentioned in my last post, I planned on making 3 cheesecakes this week for our neighborhood gathering next weekend. Well, mission accomplished! They are all sitting in my freezer now, with the 2 lasagnas as well. It was interesting to make three different recipes in a short period of time, as they all had different cooking techniques. I learned some things along the way that I'll share.

My mom's cooking technique, was definitely the easiest, which was to cook at very high heat (500 degrees) for a short period of time (5-8 minutes), then much lower heat for an hour (300 degrees), and then leave in the oven (turned off for another hour). It was the easiest because there was no messing with a water bath, but I have to admit that the finished product did have a cracked surface. This can be covered up with a cherry topping but if you are particular about aesthetics, you might have a problem with it. BTW, I've updated that post to reflect that you should soften the cream cheese to room temperature and also added some photos.

The Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake recipe from Epicurious ( looks even easier with instructions to bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and then cool 5 minutes before refrigerating. But one of the reviews recommended placing a pan of water on the rack below the cheesecake, cooking for about 50-55 minutes, then turning the oven off and opening the door and leaving the oven off for an hour with the cake still in the oven. This worked well! The cake didn't crack, though it sunk a little.

Lastly, the Pumpkin Cheesecake from Fine Cooking ( calls for the traditional water bath technique, where you place the cheesecake pan in a roasting pan then add hot water up to about the height of half the cheesecake pan and cook for and an hour and 35 minutes. Well, this produced the most beautiful of the three! You just have to be careful with the hot water, and it's a bit stressful, worrying that somehow the water will seep into the cheesecake pan (make sure you have the bottom set properly in the pan!).

One other thing I noticed is that chocolate cheesecake didn't have you put the crust up around the edges...this made it a lot easier. Sometimes getting the crust to stick to the side of the pan is a pain. So when I started having difficulty with it on the pumpkin version, I decided to forget it and just let it be on the bottom. I have to mention, my mom's method of putting the crust on the bottom, cooking it (as all called for) and then adding the side crust and cooking it along with the filling worked great. It was more of shortbread crust, so I'm not sure this would be a good idea with one that uses cookie crumbs.

Okay, so lessons learned:

  • the baking methods do produce different results, but all taste good so use whichever you are most comfortable with.
  • the crust doesn't have to go up along the sides...less stress if you just put it on the bottom.
  • Cheesecakes are EASY to make...really they are and homemade ones are SOOO delicious so give one of the recipes a try!
Lastly, if you are wondering about my reference in the title and need a chuckle, check out this is from a Louis Armstrong song:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Putting down roots (plus my mom's cheesecake recipe!)

We moved into this neighborhood twenty years ago...this blows my mind! My kids have always lived in the same house (well, the eldest moved in when he was 2 so it's the only house he remembers). When I was growing up, it seemed like we moved constantly. At 6 we moved to Japan, and though we lived there for 5 years, we lived in three different apartments. Then we lived in Korea for a year, and moved back to Pittsburgh when I was entering 7th grade. Then when I was out of college, I lived in 4 different places until we finally settled here. I feel like I've grown roots that anchor me to this house.

When we moved into our neighborhood, it was brand new and there were lots of people starting families as we were. We've stilled stayed close with five of these families, our children having grown up together, some even going to the same university now. They are like a second family in a way. We've watched our families grow and change but still share the common experience of raising our kids together.

When the kids were small, we started the tradition of having a Christmas celebration. For years we'd go on a railroad ride to nowhere, where Santa was on the train and we'd sing Christmas carols. Then we'd congregate at one of our houses and have dinner and rousing charades games. This tradition has continued without the train ride....dinner and charades. The crowd is now over 20, nearly all adults now and it is a blast. I'm hosting this year. Everyone brings a dish so that makes is relatively simple.

Since the kids all have different college schedules, we are having it Thanksgiving my planning has doubled. This week, I'm being efficient and making two types of lasagnas and freezing them as well as three types of cheese cakes. The lasagnas are both from Epicurious: the "Grandma's" and the Portobello mushroom and proscuitto one with a white sauce. The cheese cakes are going to be pumpkin, chocolate and my mom's recipe, which I'll share with you.

Kate's Cheesecake


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 t lemon peel, grated
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 t vanilla
Cheese filling:
  • 5 8oz packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 T flour
  • rest of lemon peel
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t vanilla
  • 5 eggs + white from yolk in crust
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
Crust: Combine the flour, sugar & lemon peel.Cut in the butter. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Pat 1/3 of the dough on bottom of 9" spring form pan. Bake at 400 degrees about 6 min. Cool and pat remaining dough evenly on side of pan.

Filling: Beat cream cheese till fluffy, add sugar till well blended, then flour, peel, salt and vanilla gradually. Add eggs one at a time, till blended (Don't over beat). Gently stir in cream. Pour in pan and bake at 500 degrees for 5-8 minutes, reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake for 1 hour longer. Leave in turned off oven for 1 hour more then refrigerate.

This can be frozen after it has sat in frig for a bit. Defrost it the day before and store in frig.
Crumbled crust with melted butter poured in but not mixed yet.

Finished crust patted onto bottom of pan before baking

Bottom crust baked, unbaked side crust added. Ready for the filling!

Ready to go into the oven!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving... the planning begins!

We are having a relatively quiet Thanksgiving this year, but the quantity of people doesn't seem to matter, I still make the same variety of dishes so the planning begins. I usually layout a "project plan" noting when I have to make everything as some dishes can be made ahead and others like the turkey need to be started two days before Thanksgiving.

I always make a cider brined turkey, which is a combo of two Epicurious recipes plus an oyster stuffing. The oysters make the stuffing so moist and you can't really taste the oysters (I don't advertise the fact that there are oysters in it, though I do make sure guests don't have allergies or are those cases, I will pull aside some and make it without). Mashed potatoes are a must and some kind of cranberry relish or sauce. My husband, who usually does not care for cooked carrots, loves my mom's recipe of horseradish carrots. They are one of those old recipes that are so easy but so tasty...they have quite a bite! This year, I may do a recipe I found that is butternut squash and brussels sprouts. The original recipe was a bit bland, but I think with the addition of some of the sage/rosemary/garlic salt that I made, it will be the orange and green of the vegetables will add the right colors to the plate. I'll often make beets, though my sister and I are usually the only ones that eat them. When I did this years ago one Christmas, we had an awkward conversation the next day. We both thought we had contracted a rare disease...our pee was bright red. Fortunately we traced it to the be prepared if you over indulge in them!

For dessert it's often the usual culprits: pumpkin and pecan pies, but sometimes I'll deviate and do a pumpkin flan or cheesecake. I think this year, my sister is going to make an apple pie, which I love. I may make a cinnamon ice cream to go with it if I have the time. Still need to have some pumpkin flavored dessert, though. I'll need to ask my youngest son, what he wants: pie, pumpkin roll, whoopie cookies?

So here is the horseradish carrot recipe, an oldie but goodie. You can assemble and make up to 2 days ahead (gotta love that!).

Kate's Horseradish Carrots

Serves 6

  • 1 pound plus 3 carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 Tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
Peel the carrots and cut into julienne strips about 1.5-2" long, 1/4" wide. Cook about 10 min in salted boiling water. Drain and transfer to a 1 quart casserole. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar.

Mix the horseradish and mayo together and spread the mixture over the carrots. At this point you can cover with foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Remove from frig 2 hours before baking. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Cover with the breadcrumbs for the last 15 minutes of baking (in other words, add the bread crumbs after it's baked for 10 minutes).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My mom's voice...

It's strange how it hits me. I was leaving Wegman's on Monday, and loading my groceries into my trunk, when I felt a nearly physical pain. It was a stabbing sensation that I missed my mom. I wanted to talk to her, to hear her voice, to give and get a kiss. I don't know what brought it on. Perhaps starting to plan the Thanksgiving holidays and realizing this is the first major holiday without her.

My sister called last night and expressed the same thing...she really wanted to talk to Mom. Our mother was a great listener...she'd let me vent all my frustrations at the little annoying things that build up and I'd feel guilty expressing to my friends or even sometimes to my husband. She wouldn't judge, she'd just listen and somehow by the end of the conversation, we'd be laughing about it and I feel so much better. She never lectured and though I guess she did offer advice it didn't feel proscriptive.

Before she had dementia, I would talk to her nearly every day; usually just about mundane things: recipes, the kids, frustrations at work. Not always just to vent, but just to chat. Now when I get the urge, I call either my brothers or my sister. When I talk to them, I am hearing my mom through their voices. I can't imagine what it would be like to not have them to talk to. I usually feel lucky that I'm the baby of the family (by 7, 10 and 14 years)...the pampered one, I admit it! But as we grow older and I'm seeing my mom's generation disappear, I'm not so sure. I don't think I want to be the last one left of our generation. How lonely.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A drawer of memories...

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been a cleanup-clean out tear through the house; first the garage, then the unfinished side of the basement, our office and even the bedroom. We are leaving a huge pile for one of the charities that picks items up at the front door this week, so I cajoled my husband into going through his clothes and donating those he doesn't need. He filled two huge trash bags!

The last group of clothes we culled through were his tee shirts. He loves these shirts; as soon as he gets home from work, he tosses on a graphic "t" that he's picked up on one of our trips. Going through these shirts was like taking a step into the past. We laughed our way through the drawer.
 There were shirts from relatively recent trips, such as all the college shirts he collected as we traveled around the country looking at schools for our oldest, combining college evaluations with visits to old college friends and relatives.

Then there were shirts that went back to the trips we took when the kids were really young. Cayman Islands, where they ate turtle and went snorkeling and jet skiing for the first time and Legoland in California which we visited within a month of opening and were in awe of the huge, elaborate models of dragons and animals.
Then there was the shirt from Goombays, a bar in Kill Devil Hills, NC, which really took us back. This was from a vacation we took with two other families when Bobby was 6 months old and Billy was 4. We all had small kids and we rented one of those lovely large houses in Corolla on the beach. We had a fabulous time and one of the days, the guys went golfing and then hit this bar. We used to drink the rum drink "Goombays" with these couples when we were in the "pre-child" stage, and so when they saw this place they had to go in. Well, they stayed a lot longer than they should and came home to some annoyed wives (and 6 kids under the age of 4). They thought we'd be so thrilled because they bought us all these Goombay shirts!.

But the shirt that really got us was the National Aquarium, Baltimore shirt. This was from the time we took Billy there when he turned 5. We decided to make it a special day for just him and so we took Bobby to daycare as was the usual routine. But of course, Bobby, 18 months old at the time, knew something was up, because normally only one of us would drop him off before work, and here were all of us taking him there, and waving lovingly as we rushed to get the train to Baltimore. We were taking the train out of Wilmington and were cutting it close so Dave dropped me off at the station to get the tickets while he and Billy parked the car in the garage. Well, it was one of those multi-story garages that winds around and around...and around and Billy (to this day) gets car sick. So after about the 3rd floor he's feeling nauseous and by the time they park on the roof, Billy just barely makes it out of the car and gets sick. Once we were on the train we figured we were safe, as he usually feels much better after he tosses his cookies. Well...he wasn't finished and even the train made him sick and this time he got his shirt and shorts as well. So, we show up in the Baltimore train station with a much recovered but stinking 5 year old. I ran to the train station souvenir shop and they only have tee shirts, no shorts or pants. Thank god Billy has always been an easy going kid and not a fashionista, because I ended up buying him an adult sized shirt that hung beyond his knees and that is what he wore for the trip to the aquarium. And he loved the aquarium, we ended up having a great day (that we obviously never forgot), with Dave picking himself up the fore mentioned tee shirt as we left. Of course, as we were returning home, we had a call from Dave's mom telling us that the daycare had called her within an hour of us dropping Bobby off, saying that Bobby didn't feel well. She had him for the entire day with no signs of illness. We think he realized that something was up when the three of us dropped him off so cheerfully in the morning and he sure wasn't going to stick it out in daycare while we were off gallivanting around without him!

So in the end my husband donated 13 shirts but kept 28! Each of the 28 is a memento of the fun trips and journeys we've shared with our kids. I will not push him to ever toss a single one of these remaining shirts and I'm so glad we went through them and delved into this drawer of memories.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fall Fruit...and two recipes!

One of my favorite things about the fall in Pennsylvania is the bounty of amazing apples I get from the growers market. I belong to a CSA from North Star Orchards,, where we get a huge share of seasonal fruit each week, starting in August and running into November. In August, they start with peaches and plums and as summer fades, apples and asian pears make up the share. They have heirloom varieties of apples, types you never see in the grocery store. Now that I've had these, I can't buy them in the store...the ones from the orchard are so full of amazing flavor.

Asian pears are my favorite fruit of all. I grew up eating these in Japan, calling them Nashis, and was so excited when I started finding them in the US. North Star Orchards has the best and quite a few different varieties. They are the juiciest, sweetest fruit imaginable. Perfect to eat alone or cut up in a salad (they don't brown as apples do when cut). Also you can make a wonderful fall bruschetta, by placing a slice of Nashi, a crumble of bleu cheese or slice of brie and a dollop of honey on a crostini and stick in the oven till the cheese melts a bit. Yum.

To make a delicious fall inspired salad, use fresh greens or tender farm market lettuce, tossed with the dressing below and then topped with either cut up apple or nashi and dried cranberries, crumbled bleu or feta or goat cheese, and sweetened nuts, such as the Honey Roasted Almonds or Sweet and Spicy Pecans from Trader Joes. So easy and so good!

Apple Honey Salad Dressing

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T apple cider
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T honey
Combine all the ingredients in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and shake to combine. I usually double the recipe so I have enough for several nights. This recipe came from Nort hStar Orchards.

Sometimes, the apples get away from me, and I'll make a simple baked applesauce that is scrumptious; it takes like the inside of an apple pie! If there are leftovers, it is great added to oatmeal or I put a dollop in a bowl of greek yogurt. This recipe is adapted from Cooking Light.

Baked Apple Sauce

  • 4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a large Dutch oven, tossing to coat the apples. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for an one hour and 15 minutes total or until the apples are tender and mash when stirred. Be sure to stir once, after about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

W(h)ine and Restaurants

There are so many things that affect my experience at a restaurant. Of course, the food is paramount but also important are the wait staff, the wine list and the ambiance. We've had a couple of experiences lately that though the food was good in one case, excellent in the other, the attitude and wine list knocked both places down a notch in my husband's and mine estimation.

The first was a dinner we had in Philly to celebrate our anniversary. We hadn't planned far enough in advance since we thought we were going to Pittsburgh for the weekend so we had a limited selection. I got us reservations at Bistrot La Minette, which is off of South Street in Philadelphia. It had a typical French bistro menu that looked good and I had a friend who enjoyed their experience there, so why not? I made the reservation via OpenTable and in the comment section, let them know it was our 25th anniversary.

For some reason I thought the restaurant was BYOB, so since we were celebrating 25 years, we brought along a really special Bordeaux to drink. When we arrived, I scooted to the ladies room while my husband got settled. When I returned he looked annoyed.  Apparently they weren't BYOB and the waitress, while acknowledging that they could open our bottle for a corkage fee, was really snotty about it. Then to make matters worse, the manager came over and again, acknowledged that yes, they could open the bottle and charge a fee, but also made it seem as though it was a major inconvenience and faux pas, even when my husband explained that it was our 25th anniversary and we wanted something really special and had obviously made a mistake about the BYOB thing.

Now I can understand that they wouldn't want everyone doing this, but it was obviously a mistake on our part and they did have the capability to still open the wine for us. But what they did was start the whole experience off on a discordant note and insure that we would never return. If they had been somewhat gracious about the whole thing, we might have felt differently. The food was pretty good, though the foie gras was just plucked from a can and it did feel like a bit of Paris but we won't be going back.

The second experience was at Stateside, a bar on East Passyunk that I love. We had been there for drinks and a cheese board in the summer and went with friends for dinner last weekend. The menu is small plates and everything was delicious, though you need to pick wisely as some are really small. The waitress was wonderful, very helpful and attentive. The cocktails were fabulous...that is their specialty. But three of our party ordered a bottle of wine rather than cocktails and that's where they feel short. The wine list prices were grossly inflated. It's reasonable for restaurants to charge double or a little more the state-store (we are in PA) price, but these prices were nearly four times as much. It's hard not to resent being gouged. So though we would go back for the bar experience (and snacks at the bar), it's unlikely we'd return for dinner. A shame because there is a lot to like about this place.

It makes me really appreciate a restaurant that can pull it all together and get every facet right.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Simple syrup...more ways to use sage and other herbs

I have been primarily a wine drinker, lving full bodied reds as well as Chardonnays and other dry whites. However, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have started to enjoy herbal, non sweet cocktails.

We went out to dinner this weekend with friends to a bar/restaurant in Philly called Stateside, which is known for their cocktails, using liquor made in small batch American distilleries. I had the "Talkin John Birch Society Paranoid Blues", quite a mouthful to say but also a mouthful of intriguingly delicious flavors. So good I had to have two! It had Blue coat gin, sage, lemon, a "bourbon rinse" and a tiny bit of grenadine for color.

It was so good, we tried to recreate it when we got home...with limited success. After a few tries, I consulted with my oldest son, who has become adept at making flavored vodkas (bacon, pepper, various and sundry herbs) as well as simple syrups. He suggested what was missing was a sage simple syrup and I think he was spot on! So yesterday I decided to use up more of my prodigious sage crop and make a simple syrup from it. I looked up various methods on the internet and adapted a recipe that doesn't have to be refrigerated and should last a good six months.

Well, it turned out fabulous! I'm going to make some more this with the fresh lavender I have growing in one of my flower beds. So here you go:

Sage (or any infused) Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 pinch of cream of tartar
  • 20 sage leaves, rough chopped (or 4 teaspoons of lavender)

Bring the water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil, then turn to simmer and add the herbs.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, and strain out the herbs.
Store in a clean glass jar for a good 6 months.