November 27, 2009

Cheesecake Mother Recipe

Butternut Squash Cheesecake

No Thanksgiving feast is complete without at least one dessert, so I made individual Butternut Squash Cheesecakes. I used my mother recipes for the crust and filling.

Crust Mother Recipe
2 cups fine crumbs
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Mix the crumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Using a prepared pan, pat the mixture into place. Chill until ready for filling. This recipe will produce a bottom crust for a 9" pie pan, a 9" springform pan, or four 4½" springform pans. Multiply or divide as appropriate for your needs.

Okay, now the details. The crumbs can be cookies or you could use ground candied or roasted nuts. You should use one cup of cookie crumbs to help the nuts hold together. Prepared pan? Chill it. If the pan isn't nonstick, butter it.

For the cheesecake in the picture, I used gingersnaps. I would have used some candied pecans as well, but they got eaten as a snack.

Cheesecake Filling Mother Recipe
1 pound cream cheese
3 eggs
flavoring(s) to taste

Using the flat beater, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, stopping at least once to scrape the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Add your chosen flavoring(s) and adjust to taste. This will make enough filling for one 9" cheesecake or four 4½" cheesecakes. For a denser cheesecake use 2 eggs. For a larger cheesecake, or a much thicker 9" cake, use 1½ pounds of cream cheese and 4 eggs.

When I say flavoring(s) to taste, I mean it. Add small amounts if you aren't certain what you're doing, taste, and adjust. For the cheesecake in the picture, I added 1 cup of butternut squash purée, 1 tablespoon of bourbon, and 3/4 cup of mulled simple syrup. I added the purée and bourbon, then added ¼ cup of simple syrup, tasted, added another, tasted, added a third, tasted, and was satisfied. Using this method you can make ANY flavor cheesecake filling and have it come out perfectly. Be sure to take notes in case you want to repeat it.

Now, the baking part is a bit tricky, because whatever you've done will involve different amounts of liquid, so I can't give you a precise time. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put your cheesecake on a baking sheet to avoid spilling into the oven. Baking time will be approximately 50 minutes, but start checking at about 30 minutes. Gently shake the rack and watch the top of the cheesecake. If you see waves, it isn't ready. If it moves like soft jello it's just right. If it's cracked, it's overdone but still delicious! You can test with a paring knife blade into the center, but of course you'll leave a hole in the cake and start a crack.

When it looks done, turn the oven off and open the oven door but do NOT remove the cheesecake for at least an hour. After an hour, or longer if the pan is too hot to handle, run a wet palette knife around the pan between the cake and pan to free the cake--be sure to press outward so you don't slice the cake! When you remove the pan from the oven to a cooling rack, loosen but do not remove the rim, then retighten it to keep the cake under control.

If you plan to remove the cheesecake from the springform bottom for service, chill the cake for an hour or so after it reaches room temperature. That way it won't be so fragile when you use a palette knife to release the bottom.

Oh yes, the topping. I used some Cranberry-Apple Chutney and a dollop of Bourbon Chantilly on top of each cheesecake. Each of us had our own cheesecake to eat or take home as we pleased.

November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: The Groaning Sideboard

Groaning Sideboard

There it is, my fifth and final Thanksgiving meal of the season. It was really special for me because I was able to share the meal with two good friends and my father, who will be celebrating his 79th birthday on Christmas Day!

From left to right, here's what we had:

  • Cranberry-Apple Chutney with a pear in place of one of the apples, a hint of chipotle, and mulled cider instead of simple syrup!

  • Oven-Roasted Bourbon Red Turkey, brined for 36 hours in an Apple Brine, then rubbed with a spicy chipotle rub; the turkey was from my friends at Kookoolan Farms

  • Turkey Gravy

  • Dressing and Whipped Sweet PotatoesMushroom Dressing featuring fresh chantarelles, criminis, and shiitakes, and freshly made bread because dressing made with fresh bread is so much better!

  • Chipotle Whipped Sweet Potatoes to which I added a bit of Grade B Maple Syrup to cut back on the heat for my guests who can't take heat

  • Carrots and Truffled SpinachPan-Roasted Carrots done in the oven because I was busy and didn't have an extra set of eyes to watch another pan

  • Truffled Spinach and Chantarelles with some red bell pepper and white truffle oil

Oh yeah, there was dessert as well. Butternut Squash Cheesecake with Bourbon Chantilly and Cranberry-Apple Chutney. I'll write about it just as soon as I finish digesting this meal. Maybe tomorrow.

Butternut Squash Cheesecake

November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Sides: Truffled Spinach and Chantarelles

Truffled Spinach and Chantarelles

A couple months ago I had the privilege of hosting Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon for a cooking demonstration at Williams-Sonoma. He prepared a wonderful truffled spinach that inspired this variation.

You'll need one bunch of spinach for every two portions; no need for expensive baby spinach in this dish. Begin by gently sautéing the spinach with a generous portion of butter, about one tablespoon per portion. Remember to season the spinach immediately with salt. As soon as the spinach wilts and begins to release its water, transfer to a colander and drain for at least several minutes, or up to overnight in the refrigerator. Reserve the pan if possible.

ChantarellesWhen you're ready to proceed, clean and chop some chantarelles or other mushrooms of your choice. Add a tablespoon or two of butter and a splash of olive oil to the pan, and when the butter begins to foam, add the mushrooms. Season generously with truffle salt and freshly-ground black pepper, then sauté until the mushrooms release their water.

Add a splash of truffle oil to the pan if you have some, or another tablespoon of butter, then return the drained spinach to the pan and sauté until it's heated through. Add some crème fraîche to the pan--not too much, just enough to coat lightly--and adjust the seasoning with more truffle salt. If you don't have any crème fraîche, sour cream or heavy whipping cream will work just fine.

That's it. It's really quite simple to make, but the flavor is very sophisticated.

November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving Sides: Chipotle Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Chipotle Whipped Sweet Potatoes

The most popular side dish in all my classes this year has been whipped sweet potatoes, with Chipotle Whipped Sweet Potatoes being slightly more popular. I got the idea for these from Bobby Flay.

Chipotle Whipped Sweet Potatoes IngredientsStart by baking some sweet potatoes until they're soft. You'll probably want to use a sheet pan rather than just putting them on the oven rack because they tend to leak. Let them cool until you can handle them, then remove the jackets and put them into a bowl.

Melt some butter with cream in a small pan--I used 6 tablespoons of cream and 4 tablespoons of butter for 1.8 pounds of sweet potatoes. I added 1 tablespoon of añejo tequila to the cream and butter for a bit more flavor.

Meanwhile, mince all or part of a chipotle in adobo. I used half a chile and removed the seeds because the people I'll be serving to don't like a lot of spice. Use your own judgement. Add the chipotle, cream, butter, and tequila to the potatoes and whip them until they are smooth. Add salt to taste.

Butter the inside of a baking dish large enough to hold the potatoes, then spread the potato mixture evenly in the dish. Bake uncovered until warmed through. It doesn't really matter what temperature you use so long as you pay attention, which makes this an excellent side dish for Thanksgiving because it can go into the oven with whatever else is already in there and be just fine.

The second most popular choice for flavoring the sweet potatoes was bourbon, maple syrup, and cranberry chutney. It has to be done by taste. Start by melting the butter in cream, then add just enough bourbon so that you can taste it, then add just enough maple syrup so that it, too, is present. Whip the butter and cream mixture into the potatoes, fold in a tablespoon or two of chutney (just enough to give the dish some color), and add salt to taste. This is a little sweeter because of the syrup and chutney. It would be excellent with a marshmallow topping if you want a new version of candied yams.

November 7, 2009

Easy Entertaining: Icebox Crackers


Recently I taught a class on hors d'oeuvres at Williams-Sonoma. The Rosemary-Parmesan Icebox Crackers featured in the class were so good and yet so easy that I decided I should share them here.

Rosemary-Parmesan Icebox Crackers
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sel gris or kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
¼ cup heavy cream

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and rosemary in the workbowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times, until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the cheese and pulse a couple of times to mix. With the motor running, add the cream and process until the dough forms a single mass. Transfer the dough to a work surface and form into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 2 days, or freeze up to 1 month.

To bake the crackers, preheat your oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the log of dough as evenly as possible into 1/8th-inch crackers and place on the baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or so until the crackers are light golden brown. When done, transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack until the crackers are cool to the touch, then transfer the crackers to the rack.

Yields 20-24 crackers. Store in an airtight container 1-2 days. These crackers are best the day they're made, but if you need to make them ahead of time, a few minutes in a 325°F oven will revive them.

These crackers match quite well with Cranberry-Apple Chutney, especially when served with a Delice de Bourgogne and Brut Rosé from Soter Vineyards. There's no better way to start your Thanksgiving entertaining!

November 5, 2009

Thanksgiving 101: Brining a Turkey

Bourbon Red

If there's one thing that will make the next turkey you cook the best you've ever made, it's brining. Giving that bird 24-48 hours in a pleasantly salty bath will make even an industrially-raised hormone-filled turkey taste good! What it does for a heritage breed, like the Bourbon Red in the photo, is nothing short of miraculous.

The steps you need to follow are quite simple. First, mix all your dry ingredients together and add to a pot with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and stir until all the salt and sugar is in solution. Then chill. Next, give the turkey a careful rinse and put it into a brining bag or a picnic cooler and add some ice. Add the chilled brine base and cold water to cover. Keep the bird cold while it brines.

Some instructions suggest turning the turkey over about halfway through the brining process. If you're willing to get up in the middle of the night to turn the turkey, go ahead. Otherwise, just put it into the bag or cooler breast-side down.

Before cooking, rinse the turkey carefully, and if you have time, let it air dry in the refrigerator for several hours.

Basic Brine
6 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
¼-½ cup sugar or other sweetener(s)

It's important not to use too much salt or sugar in the brine to avoid making the turkey either salty or sweet. Be very careful about using herbs or spices--the turkey will be absorbing flavor for a long time, and too much spice will make for an unpleasant eating experience.

Molasses Brine
6 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
¼ cup grade B maple syrup
¼ cup blackstrap molasses
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick about 3" long
1 medium navel orange, quartered and squeezed into the brine
1 small bunch parsley
3 whole star anise
1 teaspoon whole allspice

If you have the time, marinate overnight in buttermilk after brining. The turkey will be quite moist.

Apple Brine
2 quarts apple juice or cider
4 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
4 sage leaves, rubbed
1 teaspoon whole allspice
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick about 3" long

Tequila-Agave Brine
6 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup agave syrup
¼ cup tequila
2 limes, quartered and squeezed into the brine

If you want a bit of spiciness in your turkey, use a spicy chipotle dry rub after the brining.