February 8, 2016

Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake Bars

Yesterday, I made a quick and easy dessert to take to a friend's house for Superbowl watching. I didn't take any pictures. I am a bad blogger. However, I want to post the recipe with some suggestions on how to substitute ingredients.

In my weekend cooking classes, students will often ask about substituting ingredients. Recipes are just guidelines, I tell them. Use what you like or what you have. Yet, people are often hesitant to change recipes, fearing they will mess them up.

So, below is the recipe I used to create a decadent, sophisticated dessert...with several ideas to change it up. I had some espresso-flavored shortbread cookies I wanted to get rid of, along with some sour cream in the fridge, and several bars of bittersweet chocolate that I got for Christmas. This recipe was developed using the things I had on hand.

I created the chocolate espresso version from a recipe I found on Pinterest from Sally's Baking Addiction.

My cheesecake bars are not at all "skinny," but her recipe was a good one to follow so that I got my ratios correct. Baking is, after all, very much like chemistry. I modify recipes like this all the time. It makes cooking easier, less stressful, and much more fun.

Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake Bars

1 cup cookie or cracker crumbs *
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or coconut oil), melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature **
1 cup sour cream ***
2 large egg whites (or whole eggs if you don’t mind a yellowish filling)
1/4 cup sugar (granulated is best for a white filling, but brown sugar tastes yummy)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use self-rising if you want a slightly puffier cheesecake)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste ****
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped *****

* I used about 6 espresso shortbread cookies, which didn’t give me enough crumbs. So, I added some buttery crackers to make a full cup. Graham crackers, gingersnaps, or even saltines would work as well. You just need something crumbly and tasty.

** You can also use ricotta or strained cottage cheese. Just be sure to puree the cottage cheese to avoid the chunky curds and make a thicker base for the filling.

*** You can substitute crème fraiche, Greek yogurt, or buttermilk…anything thick and acidic.

**** Use whatever extract you want--almond, peppermint, raspberry--or another flavoring like maple syrup, liquor (rum, bourbon, brandy), strong tea/coffee, citrus zest/juice, or jam.

***** I wanted dark chocolate chunks, but you could add any chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruit, candy (M&M's, chopped candy bars, crushed peppermints or butterscotch), peanut butter, or whatnot to your filling. Or leave it out for a smooth, unadulterated cheesecake. 

January 1, 2016

Ginger Beer Pound Cake

Happy New Year!

2016 started with lots of laughs. I had a few people over last night. We ate a side of smoked salmon, cheeses and crackers, tomato bruschetta, prosciutto & parmesan gougères, and stuffed shells (thanks Christy & Allen!). For dessert, I made this delicious cake.

Lovely Ladies

There are currently several hard ginger ales on the market. I've tried Not Your Father's Ginger Ale, Lewis Osterweis & Sons Hard Ginger Beer (made by local Schlafly), Coney Island Brewing Co. Hard Ginger Ale, and Crabbie's Spiced Orange Ginger Beer. Not Your Father's is my favorite of the four (I also really dig their hard root beer).

My least favorite to drink was the Spiced Orange Ginger Beer. It was way too sweet for me. So, I looked for some way to cook with it. This cake is sooooo good. The gingery orange flavor really comes through. Of course, you could use any ginger beer or ale you wanted to. I bet it would even be good with some of that root beer.

I have lots of bottles of ginger beer at the moment, and I plan to make some pulled pork with it soon.

Ginger Beer Pound Cake
slightly adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ginger beer or ginger ale, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Preheat oven to 300F. Spray a 10” Bundt pan with baking spray.
  • Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment cream together butter and sugar on medium high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add extract and salt and beat for another minute.
  • Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  • Alternating add flour, then beer, then flour, then beer, and end with flour.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a knife or wooden skewer when inserted comes out clean.
  • Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
  • Remove from pan, let cool completely, then glaze. For the glaze, mix 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with ginger beer, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency.

December 28, 2015

Best of 2015

It's the final days of the year and time to look back on the past twelve months. 2015 was a great year, the happiest I've had in a long time. I fell hard and fast for a wonderful man who loves me (and all my quirks), who makes me smile until my face hurts, who spoils me rotten, and who has become my favorite person of all time in the history of ever. I'm as smitten with him today as I was on our very first date.

After many years of heartbreak and drama, I finally feel like myself again. I'm no longer suffering from overwhelming anxiety and depression, I have more self-esteem, I enjoy the time I spend alone (instead of feeling lonely), and I am excited about teaching.

I'm looking forward to the future instead of being worried about it. We are planning a spring break trip to Montreal (a surprise Christmas gift from Nick). We are talking about taking other trips as well...to Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Orlando, San Diego, Washington DC. Paris, someday. Planning a future is so much fun!

All in all, I'm just damn happy. FINALLY.

While I spent more time knitting than cooking this year, I still enjoyed feeding my family and friends. Here are my top ten posts and some of the best food I made in 2015.

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2016!

December 26, 2015

Butternut Squash & Apple Bisque

Remember the Downton Abbey-inspired birthday lunch I made for a friend and her mother last month? Here are those lovely ladies I had the pleasure of cooking for:

Here is another of my favorite recipes from that day. 

Normally, I don't care for smooth, creamy soups...too much like eating baby food. But this recipe is flavorful and velvety. The addition of tart apples, ginger, and cardamom makes for a much more interesting version as well.

And it's quite perfect for a nice, light supper on this stormy, wet, gray day after Christmas.

Butternut Squash & Apple Bisque

December 21, 2015

Salted Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

This year, I am actually looking forward to Christmas....the first time in many years. I've decorated my house; I even have a little tree! I've bought many gifts. I'm excited to spend the holiday with Nick and his daughters. It's nice to be part of a family again. 

We are planning a few get-togethers this week...crafting on Tuesday, cookie baking on Wednesday, and (hopefully) dinner at my place on Christmas day. I'm thinking I'll make homemade pasta with bolognese sauce and creme brûlée

I am baking classic spritz cookies (like my Grandma Green used to make), red velvet crinkle cookies,  and cranberry-pistachio biscotti. I may also make another batch of these delicious, decadent, sophisticated shortbreads that I made in my demo class on Saturday. 

Salted Chocolate Shortbread Cookies