Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Heavenly Cheesecake

I am pretty impressed with myself. I mean, check out how gorgeous this cake turned out. Usually I make things that taste good, but look decidedly homemade. I think this cake almost looks like something you'd pay money for! It tastes as good as it looks too. The recipe is from a woman at work, Masuma, who is a fantastic baker. I hadn't tried her cheesecake, but everybody said it was the best they've ever had, so I got the recipe to make for our friend Jack's birthday this weekend.

The chocolate topping was part of original recipe, which gave me the idea for the chocolate dipped strawberries on top. Next time I make this I think I'll double the cheesecake filling to make for more cheese-cakey goodness, but use a chocolate ganache rather than just melted chocolate on top as the chocolate gets hard and makes the filling squish out when you cut it. I have included these changes in the recipe below. Other variations would be to use pie filling on top (apparently sour cherry is out of this world), or just some fresh fruit.

Serves about 8
I haven't actually tried the ganache topping, but I feel like I have enough baking experience at this point to know that it should work out well. I'll post an update when I make this again and let you know how it turns out. The recipe looks like it has a lot of components, but each is really easy and quick.

  • 1 cup chocolate cookie or graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 bricks cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cans condensed milk (Masuma says PC brand works best- I trust her)
  • 1/2 tub Cool Whip, thawed
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
Chocolate Ganache Topping
  • 5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped (or use chocolate chips)
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped and melted (I haven't listed this as a weight measurement as it normally would be because the amount really doesn't matter- you just need enough to coat the strawberries)

Crust:  Prepare a round springform pan by lining sides with foil before putting in bottom of pan (this will make it easier to remove the cake later). Mix crumbs and butter, press into the bottom of pan.

Filling: Beat cream cheese with a stand mixer or electric hand mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Do not over beat. With mixer on medium, add condensed milk a little at a time- if you add too much at once the mixture will get runny. Mix in Cool Whip at medium speed. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice, mix well. Add remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, mix well. Pour onto crust and refrigerate at least 4-5 hours.

Chocolate Ganache Topping: Once cake has had it's time in the fridge, bring cream just to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Immediately pour over chopped chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted. Allow to cool to room temperature. Remove cake from pan, peel off foil, and spread ganache over top- it will spill over the sides and look pretty. Refrigerate cake for another hour to set the ganache.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries: Wash strawberries and dry them really well- I spread them on some paper towels after washing and then dry them again with another paper towel just before dipping in chocolate. Holding strawberries by green hats, dip strawberries in melted chocolate halfway up the strawberry. Immediately place on cake. Keep cake refrigerated until serving.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Easy Entertaining

We had people over for dinner every night this weekend- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Thinking about what to make when we are having guests stresses me out a bit. I bookmark lots of recipes in magazines, etc that I think would be a good meal to make when we have people over, but when it comes down to it I worry that they may not like an ingredient or that it won't turn out right (following the old principle of never make a recipe for the first time for guests). I think I hit the jackpot with this menu though- nothing difficult, not fancy but not boring, things that everybody likes with a bit of a twist. Trust me on these recipes- even if you have company coming and don't have time to test the dishes before hand!

Gougeres with drinks*

Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil Pizza

Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Pizza

Best -Ever Chocolate Cake with Berry Coulis

Makes about 24, depending how big you make them

Instructions below use an electric hand mixer. If you don't have one, beat with a wooden spoon instead but your arm will get tired. I didn't take a photo of these, but there's a good photo here
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups finely grated cheese - Gruyere is traditional, I used a mixture of Parmesan and sharp white cheddar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Put the butter and water in a saucepan with salt and pepper, bring to a boil. Remove from heat, dump in flour all at once and beat with an electric mixer on low until mixture is smooth and forms a ball. If dough is a bit wet, put the pan back over low heat and beat for a minute until mixture dries out a bit. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating with mixer on low until combined between each addition. Stir in the cheese. Fill a small glass with warm water. Using a soup spoon (I think those are what the big ones are called that come with your cutlery set), scoop a heaping spoonful of dough. Dip another spoon in the warm water, then use this spoon to drop the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat, dipping spoon in water each time. Alternatively, dough can be piped onto baking sheet. Dough doesn't have to be spaced too far apart- gougeres will puff up, not so much out.

Bake 25-30 minutes- until puffed up and golden brown. Pierce the side of each puff with a paring knife after removing pan from oven- this will let the steam out so that they don't get soggy and/or deflate.

*the French drink these with champagne, but apparently they are also great with beer (I don't even drink beer when I'm not pregnant, so I wouldn't know)

  • 1 pizza dough
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes- either fresh or from a can (I use PC Blue Menu Diced Tomatoes for everything)
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 6 or so large leaves basil, thinly sliced (julienned, if you will)
Heat oven to 425 degrees F with an oven rack on the bottom setting. Roll pizza dough really thin. Transfer to pizza pan or baking sheet. Spread with tomato sauce. Scatter tomatoes over dough and top with slices of mozzarella. Scatter garlic all over top of pizza, making sure there are no big clumps of garlic (the garlic kind of roasts in the oven and gets delicious). Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are browned and crisp, and cheese is melted melted and dry (I don't know how else to describe that- if the cheese isn't cooked enough there will be little puddles of water on top of the pizza). Top with basil after removing from oven. Cool 5 minutes before slicing.


  • 1 pizza dough (I used a whole wheat dough- the ingredients will stand up to this more full flavored dough)
  • 2 small or 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • salt and pepper, to season chicken
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 tbsp Franks Red Hot Sauce
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese 
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella)

Heat oven to 425 degrees F with rack on bottom setting. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook in frying pan with oil over med-high heat until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Remove chicken to a cutting board and cool slightly. Roll dough as thin as you can and transfer to a pizza pan or baking sheet. Spread with hot sauce. Slice chicken thinly across the grain, spread evenly on pizza. Scatter blue cheese and green onions. Top with mozzarella cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes or until edges are browned and crisp. Cool 5 minutes before slicing.


Go to Molly Wizenburg's blog Orangette for the recipe. I originally found the recipe in her book A Homemade Life. It was her wedding cake. Yum.

 For the chocolate component, I use 2 oz unsweetened chocolate + 5 oz Hershey's dark chocolate chips

This cake will keep 3 days at room temperature, or up to 5 days in the fridge. It won't last that long though. I suggest making this when you have people coming over that can help you eat it so that you and your husband don't polish it off yourselves within 3 days (not like that happened the first time I made this or anything)


  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries (fresh works too- I just always have frozen berries on hand)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Strain through fine-meshed sieve.

This last bite of cake did not go to waste. Trust me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stuffed Shells

These stuffed shells are super duper easy to make. They are another recipe that I improvised with great results. So maybe I'm better at this than I thought. I never really plan to make stuffed shells, but sometimes I just happen to have the pasta and ricotta that are the main components at the same time, and it comes to mind when I have no other ideas of what to cook for dinner but I spot the ricotta in the fridge. I always think after dinner, "Why don't I make this more often?". My husband concurs.

You can put pretty much anything in the filling. Fresh herbs are even better than the dried herbs I have included in the below recipe- use a big handful of any fresh herbs you have on hand and chop finely. Some other variations that come to mind would be to use pesto instead of dried herbs, or omit the spinach and use other finely chopped veggies (some chopped roasted tomatoes would be really good I bet). I like to use spinach, however, because I don't really like it so I never use it in anything else. Somehow spinach is delicious and perfect in the stuffed shells. If I have mozzarella cheese, I'll also grate some into the filling. So, without further ado, here is the recipe. Buon appetito!

P.S. Tyler got home from work late on Thursday when we had this for dinner so we ended up eating dinner while watching CSI. Is that weird?

Serves 3-4

To double this recipe to serve a crowd,  cook the same amount of pasta but double the filling and sauce.

  • 350 g box dried jumbo shells
  • 475 g tub ricotta cheese
  • 300 g box chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • dash of nutmeg (I would probably omit if not using spinach)
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with rack in middle. Cook pasta in boiling, well salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Mix all other ingredients except for tomato sauce. Cover bottom of a baking dish (I use a 10.5" x 7" dish) with 1 cup of tomato sauce.

Stuff pasta with about 1 heaping tbsp of filling* and place in baking dish. Continue stuffing shells until all filling is used up**. The filling will do about 25 shells. Any stuffed shells that don't fit in your baking dish can be frozen- line a baking sheet with plastic wrap, freeze shells until solid, store in a Ziploc bag. To cook follow same method as follows, but bake for longer.

Cover shells with remaining tomato sauce, making sure that everything is well covered or else the pasta will dry out in the oven and be crunchy (not what we're going for here). Cover dish with foil, bake 25 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

*I find it easiest to use my (well washed) hands to stuff the shells.
**There will be leftover cooked pasta. I have these for lunch the next day with tomato sauce.