Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

I'm now going to make a confession now that's going to horrify many a dessert lover out there: I don't really like cheesecake. In fact, the only cheesecake I really like is the kind at the Cheesecake Factory, and then it's because theirs are so light and fluffy that they barely taste like cheesecake. (My favorite, by the by, is Craig's Crazy Carrotcake Cheesecake. It's DELISH.)

I'd never even had the remote desire to make my own, until this recipe. Something about it called to me. And now I know why. It's a creamy, light, and delicious cheesecake that is very like CF's. By light I don't mean light in calories -- no, I don't fool myself about that -- I mean it isn't dense and heavy, like most cheesecakes I don't care for.

It tastes better cold than at room temperature, and I made a strawberry sauce to go with it that can be served at any temperature. In fact, I highly recommend making the sauce; its fruity tartness complements the cheesecake really well.

The trick to a cheesecake without cracks is baking it for an hour, then leaving it to cool in there for 5-6 more hours, without ever opening the oven. That means it's not a dessert you can pull together at the last minute. Immediately after removing it from the oven, I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. I didn't remove the springform pan until I was just about ready to serve.

The one "negative" -- but this is about personal taste -- is that the crust was a bit more cakey than crusty. The next time I make this I'll try baking the crust for 10-15 minutes first, then filling it.

Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce (recipe adapted from chumas at LiveJournal)


For the crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For the filling:

  • 32oz cream cheese (4 8oz packages)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsps all-purpose flour

For the strawberry sauce:

  • 1 10oz package frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice


  1. To make the crust, mix all the ingredients together and press into a buttered 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Place a rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Make sure all filling ingredients are at room temperature; that will help ensure a smooth batter. Heat a kettle of water.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese with the sugar until it's smooth. Don't overmix. (This can all be done by hand as well, if you prefer.)
  4. Switch to the whisk attachment and blend in the milk. Add the eggs one by one, mixing just enough to incorporate. Don't overmix.
  5. Add in the sour cream, vanilla and flour, then blend until smooth. Don't overmix. Small lumps are okay, big ones are not.
  6. Pour filling onto the prepared crust.
  7. Set the cheesecake on a sheet pan and slide it into the oven. Take the kettle of water you heated and pour hot water into the sheetpan, covering the sides of the springform pan by about 1/2 inch or more.
  8. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and let it cool in the oven with the door closed for 5 to 6 hours; this prevents cracking. You can turn the pilot light on to peek at the cake, which will be lighly browned on top, but do NOT open the oven.
  9. At the end of that time, carefully take the tray out of the oven (there will likely still be some water in it, so you don't want to spill it). Wrap the cheesecake -- springform pan and all -- with some plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge until chilled. Before serving, carefully remove the springform pan.
  10. To make the strawberry sauce, heat all the ingredients in a small saucepan until it boils. Turn the heat down so that the sauce is simmering gently. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the strawberries down to pulp. Serve warm or cold with cheesecake.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Indian Cuisine at Home

I love Indian cuisine, and so do my cousin and her husband. So when they asked me to cook up an Indian meal for them last weekend, I obliged happily.

One of the reasons I jump at the chance to make Indian food is because in order to make one or two dishes, you have to pretty much stock up on spices. And once you've stocked up on spices (which are usually sold in quantities far greater than you need for one meal), you don't want them to go to waste, do you? Of course not.

Another reason Indian cuisine is great is because it's easy to satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I've always thought that if I were a vegetarian, I'd have to eat Indian food a lot, because it's one of the few ways that vegetables are so infused with flavor that I barely notice the absence of meat (not that I don't like vegetables on their own, but if I have them solely and repeatedly, I really notice the absence of meat).

At first I was going to make two dishes -- aloo gobi and murgh makhani, along with homemade raita and naan. But then I started to feel bad that my cousin and I would have sauce to eat with our naan while the aloo gobi was dry so my cousin's husband wouldn't (he's a vegetarian). At the last minute I decided to make palak paneer ... the only problem being that I didn't have the time to make paneer, and I don't have an Indian grocery store close enough to me to make the trip worth it. And to be honest, I wasn't really heart broken about it; while I enjoy making my own paneer, I'm rather indifferent to eating it. It turns out that my cousin and her husband feel the same way, so it was all for the best. I ended up replacing the cheese with peas (as the palak on its own seemed to need a bit of chunkiness), and thus creating "palak mattar." Hee. I'm going to be making it that way from now on -- just as yummy, in my opinion, but easier and fewer calories.

The raita, which we like to eat with pretty much everything, was delicious, and the naan was as well, even if it didn't turn out quite as aesthetically pleasing as I had wanted (though there were some nice-looking pieces; the kids got to them before I could take a picture). The murgh makhani's sauce was absolutely perfect; it tasted just the the butter chicken I've had in restaurants. The only thing I'll change for next time is the kind of chicken meat I used -- breast rather than thigh. I prefer dark meat, and this dish is usually made with it, but at the time I went to the store they didn't have anything but breasts.

For dessert we had a wonderful cheesecake, but that's going to have to wait for another post. :-)

Palak Mattar (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach or 4 cups of fresh, finely chopped spinach
  • 3/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • pinch of asofetida
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tbsp of whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream


  1. If you're using frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze out the water.
  2. In a blender, puree the tomatoes and ginger together.
  3. Mix together the coriander, turmeric, and red chili powder with the tomato puree and set it aside.
  4. Mix the whole wheat flour with the heavy cream and set that aside as well.
  5. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; it should sizzle enthusiastically. If it doesn't the oil's not hot enough.
  6. Add the asofetida and cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for a bit, then add the tomato puree mixture and let it cook for a few minutes until the tomato puree is reduced by about half.
  7. Add the spinach, mix well, and let it cook on medium low heat for about 10 minutes, covered.
  8. Add heavy cream mixture cook another 5 minutes or so.
  9. Add the peas and fold them gently into spinach. Let the dish simmer for about 3 minutes, or until heated through, then serve immediately.
Aloo Gobi (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
  • 2 large potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch of asofetida
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, minced or grated
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • red chili powder, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp amchur (mango powder)
  • salt, to taste
  • 5 sprigs cilantro, chopped


  1. Heat oil in a large pot.
  2. Test if the oil is ready by adding a cumin seed -- it should sizzle enthusiastically right away. When the oil is hot, add all the cumin seeds and let them to sizzle for a few moments.
  3. Add the asofetida, turmeric powder, and diced onion. Saute about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic to the onions. Saute until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown. Stir frequently.
  5. Mix in the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have broken down quite a bit and the oil starts to separate from the mixture. Stir frequently.
  6. While the tomatoes are cooking, place the potatoes in a microwave safe bowl, sprinkle on a little salt, add 1/4 cup water, cover the bowl, and microwave for about 3-5 minutes, until they are about half cooked.
  7. Wash the cauliflower florets and place them in a microwave safe bowl, cover it, and microwave for about 3-5 minutes, until they are about half cooked. Lightly salt the cauliflower while it is still warm. (Please note that you salt the potatoes before they're microwaved and the cauliflower after. Also you can skip the microwaving step altogether, it'll just take longer to cook.)
  8. Once oil has separated from the tomato mixture, add the coriander powder, garam masala, red chili powder, cumin powder, amchur and salt to taste, then mix well.
  9. Add the half-cooked potatoes, mix well to coat all the potato pieces with spices, and turn the heat to medium low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but not breaking apart.
  10. Add the green peas and half-cooked cauliflower and mix well to evenly coat the cauliflower with spices. Cover and cook until all veggies are tender.
  11. Take the pot off the heat and mix in the chopped cilantro.
Murgh Makhani (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 lb chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 4 shallots, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 tbsp cilantro, chopped


  1. Cook the shallots in butter until they are limp and soft. Remove them from the pan, leaving as much of the butter as possible, and reserve them.
  2. Turn up the heat and add the chicken. Cook quickly, browning all sides.
  3. When the chicken is cooked through, add the spices, ginger and garlic, and stir for a few moments.
  4. If the pan is dry, add a few tbsps of water and use the liquid to deglaze, scraping up any bits of cooked chicken or spice that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. More than likely you'll have chicken juices to do this with.
  5. Add the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and the cooked shallots into the pan and set it to simmer.
  6. Put a few tbsps of the sauce in a bowl and mix it with the cream and the yogurt. Pour it into the chicken mixture.
  7. Simmer the dish for a few minutes. Taste it and add salt as desired.
  8. Place the chicken and sauce into a serving bowl and sprinkle chopped cilantro on top.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Simple, No-Fuss Tomato Sauce

No really. This is the epitome of simple. And mind-blowingly delicious.

You can't know how easy it is to make truly simple and delicious food until you've made this sauce -- then tasted it. The effort you put in is given back to you tenfold in a sauce that's bright and rich at the same time.

I love vegetables, and tomato sauces, but on their own they don't seem quite enough (this is why my stint as a vegetarian only lasted 3 months, years ago). What's missing is that fat mouth-feel. That rounded, complete, yes, this is what is filling and good, feel.

This sauce gives you that, along with an intense tomato flavor. There's nothing it in but tomatoes, a bit of salt, an onion, and the secret weapon ... butter. What, no garlic, no olive oil, no basil? It seems like a very non-traditional Italian sauce, and yet it comes from one of the most widely respected Italian cookbooks of all time, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

It's so easy and so effortless that I can't imagine buying jarred marinara sauce again.

Marcella Hazan's Basic Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28oz can of plum tomatoes (I got mine from Trader Joe's)
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • salt to taste


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 45 minutes. Throw the onion halves away (or if you're like me, you'll just eat them separately).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Failed Kalamata Olive Loaf

I've made a number of things over the past week or so, some of which are worth repeating and others ... not so much. But I've always said that I wanted to chronicle my failures as well as my successes, so I will.

This first one is a very disappointing failure, because I so wanted it to turn out well. It was a kalamata olive bread. I'm going to my cousin's this weekend to cook a meal, and I wanted to offer the loaf at the same time, because her husband has expressed interest in the past for olive bread. I found a recipe online that I thought looked promising, and set to work. Initially things were going really well.

I took some starter from the fridge and fed it -- the recipe called for 100% hydration starter, so I fed 1 ounce of starter 5 ounces of water and 5 ounces of flour and set the yeast to working in my proofing box. I checked on it after about 6 hours, but it was looking pretty lethargic, so I left it in the box for 2-3 more hours. At that point, the yeast was bubbly and active. See evidence:

I mixed the starter with the dough ingredients and placed it into a large greased bowl. At this point the dough was tacky but not insanely sticky. Witness:

And a close up:

This was the brand of kalamata olives that I used. It's from Trader Joe's, and I chose it with Trix's advice because it was stored in a solution that did not include vinegar.

This is when things began to go wrong. It was about 9pm, and I figured it would take 6-8 hours for it to double. However, that meant 3-5am, which I didn't relish. It seems insane to me to get up at insane hours just for bread. At midnight I checked on the dough, hoping against hope that it would have worked at a magically speedy pace and would have doubled in 3 hours. No such luck. It looked like it had barely risen at all. I decided that since the starter had struggled to get going in the first place, wild yeast take longer in general to work, and the dough currently seemed rather lethargic, I'd be safe if I got up at 6am to punch it down and get it ready for its final proofing step. After all, 6am wasn't that far off from the higher end of my estimation.

When my alarm went off at 6am, I thought about staying in bed for another hour (as I always do), but an early morning meeting compelled me to get up. I then considered taking a shower to wake myself up before tackling the bread, but decided that I should probably at least check on the dough.

Oh, the horror I felt when I saw that the yeast had gone into overdrive, filling the bowl and then some. That's right, it overflowed right onto the floor (first time that's ever happened to me). Here's a photo to show you how diligently the yeast had been working:

Keep in mind that at this point I had removed the plastic covering, onto which was stuck lots of the dough, and had thrown away all the stuff that had oozed onto the ground. Obviously, the dough was WAY overproofed. Still, I thought that maybe it wasn't such a horrible thing, maybe bread could still be salvaged from this.

That's when I made my second mistake. I blame the fact that it was 6am in the morning and my brain was barely awake. I dragged out the large cutting board that I use to work dough, and plopped the dough onto it. That's right, without flouring it first. Now, in my minor defense, the recipe didn't specify flouring the surface where I'd be kneading the dough -- but knowing that the dough was way overproofed, I should've anticipated that it would be gooey and wet. Which it was. It was gluey and just completely unmanageable. I plopped half of it back into the bowl, and attempted to "shape" the other half, but it just wasn't happening. It was basically liquid, not solid, and I probably used an extra cup of flour, possibly more, to get it into some semblance of a ball and placed into my makeshift basket.

I learned my lesson from the first half, so I heavily floured the surface before pouring -- yes, that's what I was doing -- the second half out. Due to the preemptive flouring I was able to "form" -- as much as a glob of glue can be formed -- the second "loaf" -- if a blobby thing can be considered a loaf -- at a fraction of the time it had taken me to form the first one. However, that also meant that a lot less flour was going into it. That was a concern because the next step required a slow retardation of the dough in the fridge, for 12-18 hours. Since the dough had been overproofed, there was probably no more flour for the yeast to eat, which meant that the loaves probably wouldn't do much in the fridge except get cold.

I'm just not comfortable enough with baking bread yet to salvage a situation like this. Should I have added a bunch more flour, even though the recipe at this point specified no additional flour? Should I have just scrapped the whole thing?

I decided to press forward as I was supposed to had the dough proofed the correct amount. I placed the shaped loaves into the fridge. About 12 hours later, I removed them so that they could warm to room temperature (about 2 1/2 hours). I slashed them while they were cold, because it's easier that way. I baked them as specified, though I did use the hot water/cast iron pan steaming method. Still, they never got very brown.

The results? Well, see for yourself. This was the one that had a bunch of flour added to it:

This was the one that was shaped quickly with very little additional dough:

Obviously, I'd been right in my assumption -- the yeast had no more to eat, and thus the bread did not rise very much during the final proof. Additionally, neither loaf rose very much while in the oven, especially the second, which looks more like a flatbread. :/ Flavor wise, the bread is VERY sour. That's rather appealing in its own way; I just wish I could achieve that level of sourness without creating mutant bread.

I'm still eating both, they're quite edible, just not pretty. Toasted, the texture is normalized (to toast), which improves it. And it has a very strong kalamata olive flavor, which is nice.

This experience was particularly disappointing because I recently made a regular sourdough loaf that also had extremely sticky/wet dough -- though that time I didn't overproof it -- and I was hoping that this would make up for that experience. Oh well. One thing is for sure ... I'm not going to give up on this recipe until I've made it the way it should be made, and then we'll see if it's a keeper. I'm not really convinced that the method is that great, but right now I don't have much room to talk. :P

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cherry Limeade Icebox Pie

I'm late with this one. I made it back in March, but I haven't gotten around to posting it until now. This was easy, sinful, and delicious. It's something I'd probably make once a year, no more than that. Too many calories!

I followed the original recipe from LiveJournal, here. I've adapted it below in a more traditional recipe form.

The pie is creamy, sweet, a bit tart, and generally addictive. My favorite part of pies has always been the crust, so in future for my own personal preference I'll probably make half the amount of filling and it'll be perfect. I found myself leaving a lot of it on my plate. That's not the case for many people though, so make it to your own taste! The recipe provided below is the original unaltered recipe that makes the full pie.

Cherry Limeade Icebox Pie


  • 1 large graham cracker crust (such as Kebler Extra Portions piecrust)
  • 1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 16oz container whipping cream, chilled
  • 1 5.1oz box of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 bag of frozen sweetened cherries or strawberries, thawed (I used a jar of sour Morello cherries, which has plenty of juice)
  • 1/2 cup fruit nectar (from the thawed fruit, you may need to crush some to get this yield, or obtain it by some other means)
  • 1/2 cup lime juice


  1. Take the clear cover off the pie crust and strip out the paper insert and remove the hardened glue. Wash with warm water and soap and set aside (you'll need to cover the pie once it's been formed).
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the lime juice, cherry juice, condensed milk and pudding mix. The mixture will be thick and sort of purpley-pink. (If you want to make the color more interesting, you can add in a few drops of red coloring for a more vibrant shade.)
  3. In a large bowl, pour in the whipping cream and beat it until you get soft peaks, about the same consistency of Cool-Whip.
  4. Gently fold the pudding mix into the cream. Don't worry too much about the streaks of mix and pudding. Marbling is fine, and actually adds an interesting texture when you bite into the pie.
  5. Scrape out the whipped mixture into the pie plate and smooth it out. (When I had added half the mixture, I plopped in a few cherries then put the rest of the mixture on top. Note, however, that after freezing the cherries will be quite frozen solid and will "interrupt" the otherwise creamy pie, so do this at your own preference!) Then cover and pop it into the freezer to firm up for an hour or so.
  6. At this point you can add cherries on top of the pie and let it refreeze, or you can simply serve them on the side or not at all.
  7. When firmed up to a soft frozen state, slice and serve.

A couple of yummy photos from the original post:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chinese Bakery Style Hot Dog Buns

I love hot dogs. I wish I didn't, but I do. My favorite kind are the ones sold in an outdoor setting, whether it be a sporting event or a street cart vendor in D.C. or New York. The polish sausage at Costco is good too. Sanitation and health issues aside (after all, if you're eating a hot dog, you're eating it for the pleasure of eating it and nothing else), it's a wonderful treat. I like my hot dogs grilled, and prepared two ways: served in a fresh bun with regular yellow mustard, ketchup, and sauerkraut and/or diced onion; or with chili and cheese. The first way is sour and mouth puckering, while the second way is hearty and rich. The one thing I will not eat on a hot dog is relish. I'm just not a relish girl.

One of my favorite snacks growing up was hot dog buns from Chinese bakeries. That might sound a little strange -- what's so good about a plain bun? Ah, but a "hot dog bun" in a Chinese bakery isn't just a long, cushiony hammock for a sausage, as you might buy in packs of 8 from a grocery store. No, these come with the hot dogs in them, neatly wrapped inside a soft, sweet bread. They're really handy as snacks or a quick meal on the go.

I recently read a couple of posts where people have made their own Chinese bakery-style hot dog buns, and being that it's now warmer and I love working with dough, I had to try it out for myself. I wasn't sure how my first results would turn out, so I lazily did not capture a lot of the in-process dough formation on camera, but next time I definitely will. I tried out two shapes, one that required a bit of braiding, and another in which you looped the dough around the hot dog. For the latter, I find that the shape comes out better when the loops aren't rolled super thin, so that they touch each other even before the rise (a tip for myself for next time). In this batch, I used some shredded cheese in the braided version -- next time I'll use more cheese, as you can barely tell it's there.

The recipe for this dough isn't quite as sweet as what I'm used to getting in Chinese bakeries, so I'll play with the amount of sugar next time. I don't like to adjust first-time recipes too much.

Chinese Bakery Style Hot Dog Buns (recipe adapted from here)

  • 300g bread flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast (about 7.4g)
  • 10g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten and divided
  • 170g milk, at about 90°F (egg + milk should equal about 220g)
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 hot dogs
  • sesame seeds


  1. In a stand mixer bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add in 1 of the lightly beaten eggs and the milk, stirring until it starts to come together. Attach the bowl to the stand mixer.
  2. Using the dough hook attachment, knead on medium-low speed (#4 on my KitchenAid) for 5 minutes. Add the softened butter and knead another 3 minutes or until the butter has been completely and thoroughly absorbed into the dough. The dough should feel smooth, satiny, and not sticky. If it's sticky, add more flour in tablespoon increments until you reach the right texture. The dough should pass the windowpane test (you can stretch it out very thinly without it breaking). Knead until it does.
  3. Spray a good size bowl with cooking spray. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and form into a ball, pulling the sides down so that it becomes taut. Place the ball of dough in the greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise in a warm area for about 90 minutes, until about doubled in size.
  4. Take the dough out of the bowl and divide into 8 equal pieces, about 72g each (deflating the dough is fine).
  5. To form the braided rolls, roll out one of the pieces into a rectangle, with the longer side about the length of your hot dogs. Slash both sides of the rectangle into about 7 strips, without actually cutting through to the other side. Spread shredded cheese down the center if you wish, then place the hot dog on top. To seal, fold the strips down in an alternating pattern. (See detailed instructions here.)

    To form the poofy rolls, roll out one of the dough pieces between your hands until it's about 2 to 2 1/2 times the length of the hot dog. If you want the center to be bigger than the ends, make sure you roll your dough accordingly, so that the middle of your long piece of dough is bulkier than the ends. Wrap the length of dough around a hot dog; it should be enough to make 3 loops, with the tapered ends at the bottom of the hot dog. (See detailed instructions here.)
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the shaped buns on the paper, leaving enough room in between each for the dough to have a place to go while it's rising.
  7. Cover the buns loosely with plastic wrap or a clean cloth (you don't want to ruin the rise by having to peel anything off them). Let the dough rise again for another 90 minutes or so, until it's about doubled in volume and look nicely plump.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400°F.
  9. When the buns have risen, gently brush egg wash (the remaining egg) generously onto each, making sure to get the sides as well, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top, if desired.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 5-8 minutes, until the buns are an attractive golden brown.