Sunday, June 26, 2011

World Famous Lemon Cheesecake

Now when I say world famous, I guess I should admit that it is my own world I am talking about here. Nevertheless lemon cheesecake is awesome and in general should be world famous and high on the list of best desserts of all time. Especially my one. I had been looking forward to making cheesecake for so long, I hadn't made one in about 2 years. This recipe is one that belonged to my grandmother but in saying that, it is far from any sort of family secret. I have seen other very similar recipes and I'm pretty sure that at some point 50 years ago or so this would have been copied out of the NZ Woman's Weekly or some other magazine. However, that does not detract at all from it's deliciousness, especially now that I have given it my own twist. I have been making this dessert for a very long time now and I always thought that the yellow cheesecake looked prettiest when decorated with fresh strawberries. Now, while I was away in Germany and also last year in Austria I noticed that they are real big on covering cakes with fruit. Commonly you would see a cake base, possibly with some sort of vanilla pudding, mounded high with strawberries in some sort of shiny jelly (to hold everything in place nicely I assume). So I have taken this idea and run with it, to bring to you all (if you all are actually any one at all that is) the following recipe. It seems long but really it is the simplest, easiest sort of dessert so don't be put off!


Lemon and Strawberry Cheesecake

Base:
300 gram packet plain biscuits
75 grams margerine
75 grams butter

Crush the biscuits really well in a food processor. To make the base I use both butter and margerine due to advice from a friend and my own experience, because using all butter tends to make a hard base that is difficult to cut but using all margerine makes a crumbly base that won't hold together. So use a bit of both and melt the two together, then add to the biscuits and press into the tin - for this you could use a round pie tin of 20-25 cm diameter or a square tin to make more of a cheesecake-slice. Put the base in the fridge while you work on the filling.

Filling:
1 packet lemon jelly
250 grams cream cheese
3/4 cup caster suger
Juice of one lemon
250 mL cream

First, dissolve your jelly in 1 cup of boiling water (not two as it might say to do on the packet). In New Zealand I always found that the cheap jelly was not very good, you want decent jelly to make an awesome cheesecake. Anyway, once the jelly has dissolved place it in the fridge for about 2 hours, until it is congealed but not set. It should be at least completely cold.

One important thing about cream cheese that I found out a long while ago is that for baking you can not use light or spreadable varieties - it has to be the proper full-fat regular cream cheese, or it will not set. An electric egg-beater or cake-mixer will come in handy here as you need to cream the cheese, like you would butter, gradually adding the sugar, then lemon juice. If you want extra lemony taste, add the zest as well.

Whip the cream until it is thick and then fold this into the cream cheese mixture. Take the cold, congealed jelly and gently mix this into the filling. Now you are ready to carefully spoon the filling into the base, and I say carefully because of course you may end up having too much filling. If the sides of your tin are not very high and it is going to spill over you can either save some of the filling for something else or do what I had to do yesterday and wrap a layer of aluminium foil around the tin to make the sides higher!

Now the most important step is to chill the cheesecake overnight. I once made this in the morning to be served that evening and it had not set, it was still quite goopy and made a huge mess. So chill it overnight and then in the morning you can add the amazing strawberry topping!

Topping:
Two punnets fresh strawberries (or however many you like)
1 packet strawberry jelly

First, as you did for the filling, dissolve the jelly in one (only one) cup of boiling water and set aside for about 2 hours until it is cold and slightly thick but still very liquid.
Chop all of your strawberries into quarters and pile them onto the cheesecake in any way you like, haphazard or nicely placed.
Slowly spoon the congealed jelly over the strawberries (again, if your tin does not have high sides you will make a big mess so best to wrap lots of foil around the cake just in case). You want to do this really slowly so that all the little gaps fill up with jelly.
Finally place the cheesecake back in the fridge for a few hours at least until the jelly has set!
.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spiced Apple & White Chocolate Cookies

As you may be able to guess by the title, the no-baking health-binge has gone out the window already! So soon, because it is Friday and the weather is bloody awful here in Galway, it won't stop raining, so we needed cookies. While I was in Germany I was constantly tempted by the delicious looking giant cookies that they sold at the university canteen, which were actually as good as they looked but I only tried the really chocolatey one. There was another and I didn't know what flavour it was, seeing as I don't speak German and all, but it looked like it had white chocolate and something sticky in it, like caramel. Or possibly apple? I am not sure, but they love their apple strudel over there so I guess apple was on the mind and I thought wouldn't a white-chocolate apple cookie be delicious? Especially if I made them giant cookies? So I googled it but there was nothing that really met my specifications, thus the new recipe below. It is a good one, so say my friends who gobbled them all up. Apparently it rates highest of all my cookies so far. But that's what they always say.

Of course, the one thing that bothers me is that back in NZ my cookies were almost always thin and flat and crispy, unless I undercooked them to leave them gooey. But here in Ireland they rise up so much, which is fine unless you want a flat cookie. Perhaps it is the type of flour I use? Sometimes here they mark flour as plain yet is has raising agents. And while the flour I have says under ingredients 'wheat flour' and nothing else I am beginning to suspect that it does have something else in it, so when you add that to the baking powder that I always use you get twice the rise you expect! Which for a food-obsessed perfectionist like myself is incredibly frustrating. So I guess I will just have to get different flour and make more cookies to figure it out! In the meantime, perhaps there are others out there who are suffering through a rainy day and need cookies so I will come back from my tangent and continue with the point of this whole thing which is of course the recipe!

Apple Cookies

125 grams butter (or margerine), at room temperature
1 cup soft brown sugar (or any other sugar would be fine really)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup rolled oats (or just 1 more cup of flour if you do not want oats)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (or baking powder, or use self-raising flour)
1 cup chopped apple (that's an approximation, I used two small apples, maybe you could use one much larger apple)
100 grams chopped white chocolate
100 grams sultanas

First, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Cream the butter together with the sugar until it is well mixed and sort of creamy looking. I will not bother saying until it is light and fluffy because I have never really believed that creamed butter looks fluffy.

Anyway, that is not really the point. The point is that next you add the cinnamon, vanilla and apple and mix it well, then you add the rest of the ingredients. You might want to sift the flour and baking soda, nobody likes to get a lump of baking soda in their cookie. See, it is so easy to make cookies. That is it really. The mixture is very wet, it can not be rolled into balls like other cookies. You could add more flour if you want that sort of cookie but I wanted very chewy cookies. Which is what these are. I should add that to the title probably.

Next, you need a lined baking tray. You could grease it of course but baking paper works so much better. These are drop cookies and I made them as giant cookies so I took a normal dessert spoonful for each cookie, and simply dropped it onto the tray. And then I flattened each on a bit with a fork because I wanted flat giant cookies. For normal sized cookies I guess you would use a teaspoon, and flatten them with a fork. A big teaspoon though, you need a decent mouthful. As I made huge ones only 6 would fit on a tray, and I baked them for 16 minutes per tray. But they were very soft and chewy so they could be left a few minutes longer, say 20 minutes per tray, to get crispier, crunchy cookies.

And that is all there is to it! My invention of the week was very popular and I am so glad it is Friday because tomorrow is a dinner party which means I get to spend the day cooking! My favourite type of day. Plus it is bound to be pissing down with rain so what better amusement then to spend the day by the warm stove? Perhaps such weather calls for soup? But I am getting sidetracked. TGIF, and I hope that somebody out there enjoys my cookies!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Delicious pasta and vegetables

So after a month of not cooking, I am back in my kitchen and thus back at the blog. For the past four weeks I was in Germany, and did not have simple access to a kitchen so not only was there a lack of cooking, but also a huge over-indulgence of gelato! Now it is time to be disciplined and return to a healthy diet, because it is good for you and because that way there is much less guilt when the weekend calls for a bit of a splurge (as it will this weekend, so watch this space).

With all of this in mind, tonight's meal consists of a lot of delicious vegetables! Not only do that add lots of pretty bright colours but they are of course amazingly good for you and everybody should eat more of them! For one thing, all those anti-oxidants are going to help prevent cancer, which seems to be caused by everything these days so we need that extra protection. Then there are all the vitamins and minerals, for instance courgettes and spinach are high in folate which is neccessary to keep our cells dividing properly. And everything seems to be full of beta-carotene, which we then turn into vitamin A and therefore remain able to see. Though it turns out carrots will not make you see in the dark, that was a rumour spread during one of the world wars to explain the ability of one side to shoot down planes so well at night - really it was radar but the myth continues. Anyway, here are the lovely colours that I added to my meal tonight, and below that you can see what it is I made with them:


Chunky Courgette with Wholegrain Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 courgettes, cut into large-ish chunks
2 carrots, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon of both dried basil and oregano
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
several handfuls of baby spinach leaves (this bit is optional, I just had them in the fridge, they weren't part of the original plan)
salt and pepper to taste
wholegrain fusilli (or whatever pasta pleases you, spaghetti would be good I think)

First, heat the oil and cook the onions until they are translucent. Then continue cooking them for about 10 minutes until they start to smell really good.

Now add the balsamic vinegar and the courgette, carrot and bell pepper. Turn down the heat and cook until the courgette is tender.
 
Finally, add the tomatoes, puree and herbs. Rip the spinach leaves up a bit and throw them on as well. Give it a stir until everything is good and tomoto-ey. Simmer until thick, maybe 20 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, get your pot of salted water boiling, add some oil to it if you like. Once your water is boiling of course you add your pasta and cook it for just 10 minutes, until it is perfect, not until it is mushy. I don't care how much people might like it, mushy pasta is not good pasta. It is bad pasta. It should never be purposefully cooked that way. But I think I have been over this once before so I will stop ranting and get on with dinner. Basically, you are finished!

Serve your thick chunky vegetables over your healthy wholegrain pasta (or not so healthy white pasta, really it tastes no different I am just on a health binge for a wee while) and if you like serve it with a side of salad, or some sort of yummy bread, or meat if you like, and perhaps sprinkle some parmesan over the top. I must say though, I really am no good at photographing food, my pictures never do it justice. So you should just believe me instead when I say it was delicious.