I love you...

like a [phat] kid loves [cheese]cake

Friday, March 6, 2009

When Life Gives You Cheerio's, Make...Breadcrumbs!

My first savory post here! This is one of few, since I tend to only make desserts, and my savoury dishes are usually eaten up before I remember to take a picture...or they just don't look appetising enough.

Last year, when I joined Culinary Kids as a camp counselor, I got Alice Water's book, "The Art of Simple Food" AUTOGRAPHED! Yea, that's right, be jealous. This book is amazing, and I definitely recommend it for all types of cooks, novices to experts. Everything is easy to follow and delicious, and leaves lots of room for throwing in your own ideas, which is exactly what I did here.

The original recipe is a cranberry bean gratin, but I have 4 bags of pinto beans I need to get rid of, so ta-da! Pinto bean gratin it is. I also doubled the amount of carrots and added some sliced serrano chillies for some heat [I'm Indian, so everything has to be spicy!

I was supposed to finish it off with toasted breadcrumbs, but I didn't have any bread, so I used...Cheerio's! You read right; Cheerio's. Crushed, toasted, topped, baked, and...still delicious! It just goes to show that with a little experimentation and scrounging around the kitchen, you can create an entirely new recipe that comes from Chez!

Cranberry Bean Gratin
(6 servings)

Soak overnight in 4 cups water:
1-1/4 cups dried pinto beans. Drain and cover with fresh water by 2 inches in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off any foam. Simmer gently for 2 hours or so until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary during the cooking.

While the beans are cooking prepare the "breadcrumbs." Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place Cheerio's in a food processor until fine crumbs OR place in a sealed ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush.

Lightly toast in a skillet over medium heat and toss with:
Salt and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

When the beans are cooked season to taste with:

Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid. Meanwhile finely dice:
1/2 onion (about 1/4 cup diced)
2 carrots (about 1/4 cup diced)

Heat in a heavy-bottomed pan:
1/4 cup olive oil

Add the diced vegetables and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add:
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tsp. herbs de Provence
2 serrano chillies, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon salt

Cook for 5 minutes and then stir in:
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned organic

Cook for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Mix the beans with the vegetables and put into a medium-size gratin or baking dish. Taste for salt. Add enough bean liquid to almost cover. Drizzle with: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

Cover with the toasted breadcrumbs and bake the gratin at 350°F for 40 minutes, checking occasionally. If the gratin is drying out, carefully spoon in a little bean liquid (pouring at the sides of the gratin dish to avoid getting the crumbs wet).

• Fresh shell beans make an even tastier gratin. Shell 3 pounds fresh cranberry beans. Cover them with water to a depth of about an inch, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and start checking for doneness after about 20 minutes.
• You don't have to turn the beans into a gratin. Simply cook the beans together with the tomatoes and vegetables for 10 minutes before serving.
• Other herbs can be substituted for sage: try about 1/2 tablespoon of the finely chopped leaves of rosemary, thyme, summer or winter savory, marjoram, parsley, or oregano.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Due to the recent death of my laptop, I am now using a super old-school from from ten years ago that has no Photoshop and no USB port to upload pictures. Yes, I know, epic fail. Unfortunately, this means that I'll be a bit behind on updating this since all my photos are currently stuck in the camera, so bear with me, please!

This is an old recipe of mine, but I am absolutely in love with it. For those of you who don't know me, I am obsessed with cheesecake. Obsessed. To the point where it really is not healthy. I can eat an entire cheesecake in one sitting and not feel bad about it, and when I get my cravings, stay the hell away from me or feed me! Cheesecake was the first thing I ever baked by myself, and I never looked back since. I even wrote my college essay on cheesecake! It is such a deceptively difficult dessert to make, and it is perfect beyond belief. Just one slice and I'm in heaven and my day has become ten times better.

The one and ONLY flaw with cheesecake is its mass amounts of calories, which is why I love this version. Crustless, with a streusel topping to bring that buttery, cookie appeal without the fattiness. With the usage of low-fat cream cheese and sour cream, or just omitting the sour cream altogether, it's perfect! Feel free to add oats or any other crushed cookies to the topping. Personally, I want to try it with a gingersnap-oat streusel next time. The original recipe called for lemon juice, but I found that fresh orange zest just brightens up this dessert up so well. Usually, I don't like citrus, but there's something about it here that just adds another level of flavour.

Oh, and remember: Cheesecake + water bath = happiness. With a water bath, the cake will never crack and just look even more gorgeous than before, if that's possible.

Orange-Ricotta Cheesecake with Streusel Topping: Serves 12

The cheesecake:

Unsalted butter for greasing cake pan

1 pound whole-milk ricotta, preferably Polly-O, at room temperature

1 pound Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature

The topping:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, in small pieces

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9- by 3-inch round cake pan. If the ricotta has any standing liquid, pour it off, but you do not need to drain the ricotta. Fill a tea kettle with water, bring to a boil and keep it hot while you prepare the batter.

In an electric mixer, beat the ricotta, cream cheese and sugar until smooth and light, scraping down the sides of the mixer once or twice. Add the sour cream or creme fraiche, lemon juice, vanilla and salt and blend well. Add the eggs one at a time; incorporate them well but do not over-mix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Tap the bottom of the pan against the counter to release any air bubbles. Set the pan in a larger pan or baking dish and add hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the center is set (you can tell by jiggling the pan gently), about 21/2 hours. Remove from the oven but let the cheesecake cool in the water bath.

For the topping: Preheat oven to 325. Combine the softened butter, flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor or electric mixer with the paddle attachment and blend until the mixture clumps together like a crumbly dough. Chill for at least 1 hour. Crumble onto a baking sheet and bake the topping until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool completely. The topping will harden as it cools. Put the topping in a plastic bag and pound with a rolling pin to crumble it finely.

To remove the cheesecake from the pan, chill in the freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from the freezer and put the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, or a cardboard round cut to fit, on top of the cheesecake. Dip the bottom of the pan briefly in hot water, then invert the cheesecake onto the springform or cardboard round. You may need to shake the pan gently to get the cheesecake to release.

Sprinkle the topping over the surface. Cut into thin wedges to serve.