Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Amaretto Cheesecake for #Baketogether

I've often been accused of being an "old soul". I shouldn't even say "accused", I suppose, because I embrace the title.

I enjoy things from simpler times. From music, to art, to lifestyle, I enjoy simply and "tried and true". I'm a traditionalist, too often steeped in a sense of nostalgia.

Of course, this trait comes out quite often in cooking or baking.

I'm drawn to old recipes. Simple ones. Thus, there is nothing more treasured in my recipe library than the recipes handed down from my Nana Virzi. She passed away a year or so after my wedding, but she lives on in these recipes.

There's a back story here, and a box of hundreds of recipes, but that story, it's not for today. Today, I would like to talk of cheesecake.

A couple of years back, I asked my Aunt Claudette to send me what she had of my grandmother's recipes. In the mail, I received photocopies. Recipes, written in my Nana's handwriting, and the letter that originally accompanied my aunt's request for the knowledge.

They're beautiful. I treasure them. Among the ones sent, was a recipe for Amaretto Cheesecake.

Thus, when I saw that this month's Bake Together (brought to us by the lovely Abby Dodge) was cheesecake, I knew I had to finally make this recipe. It's simple, unfussy, and I can envision my Nana serving it at a dinner party. It's a little taste of a time gone by.

Amaretto Cheesecake
Serves: 8-12
Inspired by: Abby Dodge's Vanilla Cheesecake and my Nana

Ricotta is added in this cheesecake, making it closer to ricotta pie than tradition cheesecake. It's wonderful, and don't forget to add a little more Amaretto if you like. I did.

  • 1 1/2 cups coarse graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 15oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 8oz. pkg of cream cheese, softended
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Amaretto
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspon salt.

  1. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. 
  2. Combine crumbs and butter, press into the bottom and sides of the springform pan. 
  3. Chill crust for at least an hour.
  4. While crust is chilling, preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  5. Now, beat together ricotta and cream cheese until smooth. 
  6. Add in remaining ingredients, beat until smooth again.
  7. Pour into the crust/pan. 
  8. Bake 60 minutes or until full in middle.
  9. Cool 20-30 minutes in pan, then remove to cool on a wire rack. 
  10. Cool completely (I like putting it the fridge) before serving.
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Overnight Caramel French Toast

Moderation with caramel, and sugar, and thick-sliced bread.

Sounds like a joke, right? I'm not kidding.

This is Caramel Overnight French Toast, and no, it's not my own recipe, I confess, but I want to share it with you because I constantly get asked for it. Truly, that's how this entire blog thing started. People would ask for a recipe and I'd post it here, so it was easier. I had no theme, no commitment to it, it was just a way to share my love for food with others.

I think that gets forgotten in the food blog way too often.

In the middle of deadlines, sponsorships, conferences, giveaways, and popularity, we forget that food blogs simply popped up to share a love of food. I think we'd all be better writers, developers, and people, if we remembered that the passion for food and sharing it, should be our first priority. Then again, I can say this because I have a day job that pays the bills.

Back to moderation, however. You know that's my "theme". The "lighter" part of the title of this blog has more to do with the "lighter" side of eating local. "Lighter", as in, a not so serious side of trying to live a more local and regional lifestyle. Yes, it wasn't thought out. Yes, I probably should change the name of this blog since most think it's about healthy eating. Most of my recipes are fairly healthy, but I'm a firm believer in moderation of all things, including those full of fat and sugar.

Including Caramel French Toast.

This is a Cooking Light recipe I stumbled upon a few years back. Ever since, it's become a choice for me to bring to holiday brunches, sleepovers, and when there's a special Sunday morning. It only comes out once or twice a year. The main reason is that it's super sweet. In moderation, that's perfect. The other reason, it does use corn syrup.

Before you skewer me for that, I'm here to tell you it's OK. I live and cook with mostly local products, and whole foods. I'm a true believer that if you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't eat it... regularly.

However, in moderation, it's OK. I use corn syrup, maybe, three times a year in a recipe. It has properties that lend itself to easy caramelization. If you really hate it, you can sub maple syrup here, but you won't get caramel.

Here's my deal and my confession. Every once in a while I'll eat something crazy processed. And yes, even though I know it's probably one molecule off from plastic, I'll have a fast food shake every once in a while, because I can. Frankly, where we veered off the path with processed foods is when they stopped becoming "treats". That once in a while thing you got when you were good at the dentist or something. However, when a trip through the drive-through became a several-times-a-week thing, we took a wrong turn.

You can live a life enjoying mostly whole and local foods, the best of what life and nutrition has to offer, but you can also allow yourself certain things, use "forbidden" ingredients, every once in while. It won't kill you. It won't upset your balance, as long as it doesn't become habit.

Heck, if you don't like these things, then don't eat them. Don't feel like you can't pick up something that's on the "bad" list, however. There's no good or bad, if you place limits and practice moderation. In other worse, don't beat yourself up. Life is too short to not enjoy guilty pleasures, that truly, aren't really guilty in the first place.

Until then, enjoy french toast, soaked in caramel.

Overnight Carmel French Toast
Source: Cooking Light
Serves: 8

  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light-colored corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Cooking Spray
  • 10 slices french (soft) bread (I like to use Texas Toast here)
  • 2 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Combine light-brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a saucepan. Cook these over medium heat until mixture bubbles. Stir is constantly. 
  2. Coast a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray, pour caramel mixture into bottom of dish.
  3. Put you bread slices in a single layer over the caramel mixture.
  4. Combine milk, flour, vanilla, salt, and eggs in a large bowl, whisk to combine. 
  5. Pour milk mixture over bread, evenly.
  6. Cover and refrigerate the dish, overnight, or for at least 6 hours. 
  7. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  8. Mix together your sugar and ground cinnamon, and sprinkle over bread. 
  9. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until golden. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Turnip Mochi Pancakes with Starfruit & Millet Risotto with Adzuki Beans

Sometimes it's a good idea to go beyond your comfort circle. Outside of my comfort circle is pretty much any type of Asian cuisine. I love it when someone else makes it, but when I attempt, it's usually a disaster. 

So when the fine people over at Marx Foods asked me to take part in their "East Meets Delicious" challenge, I was a little concerns, but I forged forward. I'm happy i did.

For the challenge, lucky bloggers were given a box of treats to work with. I received some amazing things Dried Maitake Mushrooms, Mochi Rice, Dried Star Fruit, Organic Millet, Adzuki Beans, and Hijiki. The mission? Use four of the ingredients provided to create an original appetizer and main course recipe. 

Of course, I wanted to put a local spin on this challenge, using in-season ingredients. I picked up turnips and asian greens from Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, NH from the Newburyport Farmers' Market, and I went to town. 

I have to say, it was a challenge.  Mochi is tough to work with when you make it into a paste. It's insanely sticky, hard to clean-up, but extremely tasty as well. I made into a seasonal appetizer, that ended up being quite difficult to stop eating. The millet risotto is a great whole grain alternative to regular risotto, and as i found, it's quite awesome to make into cakes and fry up the following day. 

Turnip Mochi Pancakes with Spicy Starfruit Topping 
Makes: 12-15 pancakes

  • 2 cups mochi rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 large turnips (or 3 medium, or 1 bunch small hakurei turnips)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (or water)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Rinse and drain mochi rice three times, letting it drain for at least 30 minutes the last time. 
  2. Put cleaned rice and water into a rice cooker and cook until done.
  3. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead 30-40 minutes on medium speed until smooth. Place a towel over the bowl to keep the rice warm while it kneads.
  4. While the dough is kneading, prepare the turnips. 
  5. Cut off the top and tail of the turnips, slice into 1/4 inch slices. 
  6. Melt butter in a non-stick 12-inch skillet (choose one with a lid) and layer turnip slices in pan. Sprinkle the turnips with thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. 
  7. Cook in butter over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  8. Cover turnips with the heavy cream and chicken stock, put lid on and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. 
  9. After 20 minutes, the turnips will be softened, transfer them to a food processor and process until slightly smooth with chunks of turnip.
  10. Dust a clean work surface with LOTS of corn starch. Dust your hands as well. Transfer dough to work surface.
  11. Form dough into little balls, once done, flatted each a touch and place just a touch less than a teaspoon of turnip mixture to each ball, re-roll ball so filling is covered.
  12. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. 
  13. Once warm, work in batches, and pan-fry each ball (it will spread into a pancake), it will release on each side once done. 
  14. Transfer to a plate and serve with Spicy Starfruit Sauce (recipe below)
Spicy Starfruit Topping

  • 8-10 dried starfruit
  • rum
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
  1. Soak starfruit in rum over night.
  2. Drain, and chop starfruit into little pieces.
  3. Combine starfruit, sugar, and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the fruit begins to break down and it reaches the consistency you desire.
  4. Add sriracha and stir, cooking for 2-3 minutes until it's worked in.
  5. Serve with mochi pancakes.

Millet Risotto with Adzuki Beans and Greens
Serves: 6

  • 2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 a red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, low-sodium
  • 1 cup millet
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan (or guyeyre, something with a nutty flavor)
  • 1 cup adzuki beans (cooked)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch asian greens
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  1. In a small saucepan, heat water and broth together until warm (not hot).
  2. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven, once heated, add your chopped onion and cook until tender.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds or so)
  4. Stir in your soy sauce and cook for another minute.
  5. Now, add your millet, allowing the seeds to toast up 2-3 minutes. 
  6. Now, add the broth/water mixture a 1/2 cup at a time until the mixture thickens and the millet is tender. 
  7. At this point, stir in your cheese and the beans and keep warm. 
  8. Next, heat other teaspoon of olive oil, once warm, add greens and soy sauce to the pan and cook until just warm. 
  9. Top the risotto with the greens and serve.

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