Slightly Cheaper Than Therapy

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A little pick-me-up February 28, 2008

Filed under: Cakes,Cheese,Desserts — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 10:17 pm

 

Last week my book club met to discuss A Thousand Splendid Suns.  I normally gobble up books like there’s no tomorrow and I’ll read just about any genre you plop in front of me.  But I had a very difficult time with this book.  It was just too brutal and offered so little hope, IMO.  There are thousands of folks who have loved this book and others by Khaled Hosseini, so don’t let my brief review persuade you not to check it out.  Just be forewarned.

 Anyway…I figured that after discussing all the depressing stuff in Suns we all would probably need something to lift our spirits.  And what cheers me up the most?  CHEESECAKE!  (My taste buds are dancing as I write this and singing “Big fat DUH! Gimme some now!!”).  As is the case with most of our “meetings” we spent most of the evening gossiping and chatting about things other than the book, so the amount of cheering needed turned out to be minimal.  But even still, as this cake made the rounds there were big smiles all around. 

This is the first time I made something out of Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook, and it turned out very well.  Not as delicious as the stuff I found at The Confectional, but woe be the day that I discover that recipe.  I might as well chuck my scales and Cooking Light subscription, because my waistline will be a lost cause at that point. 

The cake portion was excellent.  Perfect blend of savory and sweet with a bright tang of raspberries.  The chocolate could’ve been more powerful, though.  The only thing I really didn’t care for was the crust.  I’m more of a graham cracker crust kinda gal, so the sponge cake just didn’t do it for me.  Others enjoyed it, but I think I’ll stick with what I know I like next time.

Junior’s White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake

 

Junior’s Sponge Cake Crust
1/3 c. sifted cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 drops of pure lemon extract
2 T unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350F and generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan.  Wrap the outside with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides. 

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes.  With the mixer runing, slowly add 2 T of the sugar and beat until thick light yellow ribbons form, about 5 minutes more.  Beat in the extracts.  Sift the flour mixture over the batter and stir it in by hand, just until no more white flecks appear.  Now, blend in the melted butter.  Move to another bowl.

Now, wash the mixing bowl and beaters really well (if even a little fat is left, this can cause the egg whites not to whip).  Put the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl and beat with the mixer on high until frothy.  Gradually add the reamining sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form (the whites will stand up and look glossy, not dry).  Fold about one-third of the whites into the batter, then the remaining whites.  Don’t worry if you still see a few white specks, as they will disappear during baking.

Gently spread out the batter over the bottom of the pan, and bake just until set and golden (not wet or sticky), about 10 minutes.  Touch the cake gently in the center.  If it springs back, it’s done.  Watch carefully and don’t let the top brown.  Leave the crust in the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.  Leave the oven on while you prepare the batter.

Cheesecake

10 ozs of dry-pack frozen whole raspberries (unsweetened, not in syrup), thawed and drained well
5 T cornstarch
8 oz. white chooclate
3 8-oz. packages of full fat cream cheese
1  1/3 c. sugar
1 T vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 c. heavy or whipping cream
1 half-pint fresh raspberries

Pulse thawed raspberries in food processor until pureed (you’ll need 3/4 c. of puree).  Stir in 1 T of the cornstarch and set aside.  It will thicken slightly as it stands.  Melt the white chocolate.  Set aside.

Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 c. of the sugar and the remaining 4 T of cornstarch in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times.  Beat in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, sraping down the bowl after each one.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 c. sugar, then the vanilla.  Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Beat in the melted white chocoalte, then the cream, just until completely blended.  Do not overmix!

Gently spoon the batter on top of the crust.  Using a teaspoon drop the raspberry puree in spoonfuls on top of the batter, pushing it down slightly as you go.  Using a thin, pointed knife, cut through the batter a few times in a “figure 8” design, just until red swirls appear.  Don’t mix in the puree completely or the cake will turn pink.

Place the cake in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the springform.  Break until the edges are light golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan with red raspberry swirls, about 1 1/4 hours.  Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack and let cook for 2 hours.  Don’t move it!  Leave the cake in the pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, preferrably overnight or at least for hours.

 

Moo February 21, 2008

Filed under: Beef — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 10:41 pm

 

If you get to know my mom for more than, oh, 5 minutes, she’s bound to lapse into stories of my childhood.  One of her very favorite stories to recount is how, as a toddler, I loved me some chicken legs.  In fact I’d gnaw on them till the every last speck of meat had disappeared.  This quite honestly gives me the willies nowadays, but apparently as I child I was quite the carnivore. 

Somewhere between toddlerhood and junior high I developed a serious dislike of most meats.   (Except pig, but we’ve gone over that one before.)  My main aversion was anything that came with a bone in it—chicken legs, ribs, bone-in steaks, you get the picture.  But a very close second was Cow.  I just really don’t care for beef.  People used to gasp as I covered “perfectly good” steaks in ketchup just so I could get them down.  So I eventually gave up my meat-liking charade and stuck with what did sound good to me—fish, veggies and heavily sauced/disguised chicken.  And I would like to think this diet has served me well.  I mean, I’ll never have to fret over whether to give up red meat because of it’s ill effects on my health.  And no doctor has every said, “P, you really should try to get more fish in your diet.” 

But…there is perhaps one beef dish that I really, really enjoy:  French Dips.  Mmmm-mm-m-m-m-m-MMMMM!  I didn’t discover the only real way I could enjoy Cow until after I was married.  After a months worth of repeats, I asked The Hubby if there was anything he’d like me to try out.  He first suggested buffalo wings, I think.  But after one whack of a cleaver into the joint that separates the wing from the leg-part-thing and I was done.  The Hubby had to finish making that dish, if I recall correctly.  Then he suggested a French Dip.  Never having this dish growing up, I wasn’t sure (a) what all the excitement was about, or (b) how I’d go about making one.  AllRecipes came to my rescue and I discovered one of the easiest crockpot dinners I’ve ever attempted.  Plus it is so, so yummy.  And that’s coming from the lady who doesn’t care that much for Cow. 

This recipe is similar to the Stroganoff in that you really can adjust the seasonings to fit your desired flavor.  The “coverage” suggestions below are what The Hubby and I like.

French Dip with Au Ju

~2.5 pounds of rump roast (Yes, I know.  I managed to like one of the most disgusting portions of the Cow.)
Onion Powder (medium coverage)
Garlic Powder (medium coverage)
Lowry’s Season Salt (light coverage)
1 can of Campbell’s beef stock/consomme
1 can of Campbell’s french onion soup
8 cracked wheat buns
butter

Place the roast in a large crockpot.  Sprinkle with spices.  Pour soups over roast.  Cover and cook on low for up to 8 hours or until thoroughly cooked.  Butter buns and toast in 250 oven until warmed.  Remove roast and cut into thin slices.  Pour au ju from crockpot into small bowls and serve with sandwiches.

In my experience not all crockpots are created equal.  So keep an eye on this one the first time you make it to ensure that it isn’t over cooked.

 

Chowdah! February 11, 2008

Filed under: Seafood,Soups & Stews — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 6:30 pm

 

A few weeks ago I took yet another CM cooking class (what can I say…I’m officially addicted).  This one was taught by the head of the fish department, Scot Lorac, and it focused on New England specialties.  There were a few things on the menu that caught my eye, but the dish that sealed the deal was the chowder.  I triple puffy ❤ New England clam chowder, but I can rarely find good versions of it in Texas.  Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but I doubt it.  And don’t even start to suggest that mess out of a can….*shudder*. 

And let me tell you, Mr. Lorac did not disappoint.  I cannot tell you how over the moon I was when I tasted his version.  Holy mother of god it was possibly THE. BEST. CHOWDER. EVER.  I know I use “the best ___ ever” a lot, but seriously guys this stuff will blow your mind.  In fact, I can’t even remember the 3 or 4 other dishes Scot prepared that night.  The chowder eclipsed them all!  So of course this recipe had to be replicated immediately in my kitchen.  After halving the recipe (because really, what would the Hubby and I do with a gallon of chowder?) it was fairly simple to throw together.  For those of you below, oh…say…Oklahoma, you must make this when we get our next and probably last cold snap of the season.  It will warm you from your toes to your nose!!

New England Clam Chowder
(~1 gallon)

1 1/2 lbs. minced clams
1 qt. of clam juice
1/2 lb. of bacon, chopped
1/4 lb. yellow onion, minced
1/4 lb. celery, finely diced
3/4 lb. potatoes, cut into 1/4″ chunks
3 1/2 oz. all purpose flour
1 qt. of whole milk
12 oz. heavy cream
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
Salt, Pepper and Tobasco to taste

Directions

In a pot add the milk and cream and heat till scalded (a bit of “skin” will form on top).  Set aside to cool.

In a stock pot, add the bacon and render until bacon is crisp and reserve.  Remove bacon and set aside.  Add onions and celery.  Sweat them until translucent and slightly carmelized.  Add the flour and stir constantly till roux is blond.  Add the clam juice and milk while whisking.  Add the potatoes.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for approximately 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Stir almost continually.  Add the clams, thyme and oregano during the last 15-20 minutes.  DO NOT let this cook unattended.  Continue to stir for the remaining 15-20 minutes.  Add Worcestershire, salt, pepper and tobasco.  Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.  Serve with oyster crackers and a bit of the bacon crumbles. 

This recipe should be done a day ahead of time.  The soup needs about 24 hours to truly develop all the flavors. 

 

Poker Pastries February 10, 2008

Filed under: Appetizers,Breads,Pork — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 5:20 pm

 

Guys…I gotta say…I am becoming quite the card shark these days.  Last night the Hubby and I hosted a couples poker night and I won first prize–100 smackeroos!!  And what did the Hubby win??  Oh that’d be NADA!  He took 4th place behind me and another chick, which means he will be catching a lot of flack this week.  For some reason he’s got it in his head that the wives don’t really know what we’re doing at the poker table.  First and second are better than fourth right??  Guess he’s the one who’s got a few things to learn.  ;o)

Anyway, Poker Night is always potluck and I really wanted to make The Fantastic Thanksgiving Dish That I Forgot to Photograph.  But Friday night came around and I had zero motivation to get off my bum and cook.  So I ended up going with something considerably easier.  In fact it’s so easy that I almost feel like it can’t be considered a recipe–kinda like you wouldn’t run around giving out instructions for a ham & cheese sandwich .  But everyone loved these so much that I’d share.  They work really well as finger foods or for a casual brunch.

Sausage Crescent Rolls

1 lb. of regular (i.e. not hot or italian) breakfast sausage
1-8 oz. block of cream cheese, softened
2-3 cans of refrigerated crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 350. 

Brown and crumble the sausage in a skillet.  Drain well and return to pan.  Stir in cream cheese and mix until well combined.  Roll out crescent roll dough and separate along perforations.  Spoon 1 tablespoon of sausage mixture onto widest end of each triangle.  Roll triangle from widest end towards the point, twisting and pinching ends to seal off sausage.  Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Slice in half and serve. 

The amount of dough you will need will depend on how much of the sausage mixture you put in each roll.  I usually only use two, but I put a lot of filling in each roll.

 

Not-So-Fat Tuesday February 8, 2008

Filed under: Seafood — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 5:16 pm

 

The Hubby, who as you may know is a HUGE fan of Sauce (not to be confused with The Sauce, but just Sauce in general) is also a lover of gumbo.  I think it’s his only happy memory from the 2 or so years he lived just west of New Orleans.  Poor thing.  I, on the other hand, can usually take gumbo or leave it. 

But because I love the Hubby so, so, so, so much, I decided to spend my once-a-month cooking class at Central Market learning to make four different kinds of gumbo–veggie gumbo, shrimp gumbo casserole (a la Paula Deen), chicken & sausage gumbo and seafood gumbo.  A couple of these were pretty good, but two were awesome.  So awesome in fact that I decided to make up a pot in honor of Mardi Gras.  (Well, that’s not exactly true…it was mainly in honor of my intense craving for it and Mardi Gras happened to fall at just the right time.)

 And ya’ll, this stuff is so darn good you’ll be hearing Hank sing, “Jambalaya, crawfish pie, file gumbo!…Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou!” and having visions of Bobby Boucher’s mama declaring “that girl is the Debil!!” as soon as it’s delicious scent hits your nose.  And if you don’t well then obviously something is seriously wrong with your sniffer and you should really consider getting it checked out. 

I wish, I wish, I wish I could claim this recipe as my own, but it is another masterpiece from Central Market’s Cindy Haenel.  This woman is awesome and a funny teacher too.  Check her out if you’re ever in the ATX.

Oh and, by the way, this dish is pretty darn light and good for you!  Hence the “not-so-fat…”

Seafood Gumbo
Cindy Haenel

1 1/2 gallons of seafood stock
2 cups of peanut butter colored roux (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of paprika
2 bay leaves
3 cups of medium diced onions
3 cups of medium diced green bell peppers
3 cups of medium diced celery
2 cups of diced tomatoes
1 lb. of crab legs
1 1/2 lbs. of little neck clams, scrubbed
1 lb. of small scallops
1 lb. of okra (fresh or frozen–thawed)
2 lbs. of whole medium shrimp
1 cup of chopped green onions
File powder to taste

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pot.  Gradually spoon in the roux until you reach your desired thickness.  You probably will not use all of the roux.  This is a “looser” gumbo than others.  After each spoonful, let the mixture come to a simmer so you can see the full effect of the thickening.  Once desired thickness is achieved, add all the seasonings (cumin through bay leaves) and bring back to a simmer.  Be careful not to boil vigorously.  Gumbo should be cooked at a gentle simmer the whole way through.  Add the onions, bell peppers, celery and tomatoes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Once the gumbo comes back to a soft boil, add crab legs and clams and cook for 15 minutes or until the mixture reaches a soft simmer.  Finally add the okra, shrimp, scallops and green onions and cook until all seafood is cooked through and flavors are combined, about 15-20 minutes.  Discard any unopened clams.

It would be best to make your gumbo a day ahead.  This will allow all the flavors to marry well.  Serve your gumbo over cooked rice and add file powder to taste.

Roux
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
1 cup of all-purpose flour

In a pot over medium heat, add the butter and melt.  When the butter is melted, stir in the flour.  Cook, stirring often until the mixture turns the color of peanut butter, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.  This can be done several days in advance.  Butter a roux needs to cook slower than an oil-based roux.  Butter will burn if cooked too quickly.

 

*Obviously I tweaked the meats in this dish.  They were out of crab legs and I didn’t have time to cook the gumbo that day so I opted out of the clams as well.  (Clams need to be cooked the day you buy them or else the can go bad.)  To make up for these two meats, I added an extra pound of shrimp and about 3/4 of a pound of andouille sausage (I like Cajun Hollar brand).  I also subbed oilve oil for butter in the roux to make it healthier.  The roux didn’t thicken as much as it would have with butter, so I used more flour and used almost the whole recipe.*