Monday, April 28, 2008

Whimsical Cheesecake Pops

I just completed my second and very exciting Daring Bakers challenge. The challenge for April proved to be a fun and creative endeavor. I didn't realize how lucky we were that Deborah of Taste and Tell and Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms chose Cheesecake Pops from the cookbook Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth by Jill O’Connor. If you want to smile, then dig in to my story.

Whimsy. That is what I felt as I worked on this this challenge.

I must admit, when I first received the challenge, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I was excited. I adore cheesecake, and the thought of making cheesecake lollipops seemed - oh so fun. But, on the other hand, my number one customer, the person I love to please the most, my dear hubby, Jamie does not care for cheesecake. I is that possible? To complicate things, the day of the offical challenge posting fell on our anniversary, so here I was baking him a dessert that I knew wouldn't ignite his fire.

To my surprise, he actually liked them. He admitted that he couldn’t eat very many, but he was very impressed with the finished product. He thought they were so pretty that they could be in a confectionary store. They made him feel the whimsy.

The Cheesecake Pops tasted yummy, but they looked even better than expected. When I first started baking these creations, I wasn’t sure of the outcome. I was a little nervous that I would turn out very messy un-refined looking cheesecake pops. I decided I needed to take my time and do this over a 2 day period. So, I baked the cheesecake on Friday. The cheesecake was super easy to bake. It is definitely a go-to cheesecake recipe. The cheesecake baked beautifully. I was sad to not serve it as is. But, I followed the recipe refrigerated it overnight. At the same time, I was dreading and looking forward to destroying my perfectly baked cheesecake.

On Saturday morning, I began making the cheesecake balls. This was a little challenging. I found that the cheesecake was sticky. My first approach was too serious and adult-like. I tried to use a scoop to make perfect round balls. My frustration mounted and I soon gave up and resorted to the best utensils in my kitchen, my hands. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. That was when the magic happenend. I felt light-hearted, all the while reminiscing of my childhood. It felt whimsical.

The fun came with dipping, dredging, and decorating the cheesecake pops. Since variety is the spice of life, I decided to dip the cheesecake into chocolate and then cover them in a variety of toppings, such as crushed walnuts, colored sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, and swirls of white chocolate. I wanted a happy assortment. My favorite was the white chocolate swirl. They all looked so pretty. I was so giddy with the results.

If you are looking for a dessert that will fill you with a sense of whimsy, this dessert has your name on it. Bake, roll, dip, and decorate!

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Red Birdhouse Caught My Eye

My post is late. Late. Late. I had every intention of using Jamie's computer and publishing Sunday afternoon. The Napa sun intruded. The day was glorious. The sun was brightly shining and the afternoon temperature was pleasantly NOT hot. It wasn't cold, either - it was , well it was perfect.

We flew to Napa, California on Saturday morning. Our plan was to leisurely visit wineries, eat yummy food, and just relax. We succeeded swimmingly. I did have a small hope of checking email and keeping Cafe Nay Nay updated. In the end, those hopes were not realized. So, here I am to tell you about a wonderful weekend getaway.

I am biased. I won't even apologize. Wine country is one of my favorite places on earth. When retirement age hits, this is where I want to be. I can't stop dreaming of the fresh produce, access to the most wonderful dairy products, the very best restaurants, and the wonderful, wonderful wines...sigh.

So instead of focusing on a particular meal, a favorite wine, I thought I would bring you vignettes from our trip. I don't have a specific recipe to share today, but hopefully you will enjoy the photos and stories.

Let's begin by talking about a red birdhouse.

The red birdhouse above caught my eye. The bright red color amidst the green foliage really stood out. This photo was taken at Elyse Winery. We had never visited this small family winery before, so we weren't sure what to expect. In a word, it was very inviting. Ray and Nancy Coursen were at the winery that day and were very welcoming. It always adds some magic to the wines when we get to see the heart behind the wines. Elyse Winery produces many different varietals. If I had to pick a favorite (which is hard), it would be the 2006 Elyse Korte Ranch Zinfandel. It was delicious!

Another stop on our trip was to Robert Sinskey Vineyards. We are fortunate to be members of their wine club, so we always make time for a stop when we are there. To add to the magic of the sunny day, we enjoyed our wine tasting with a food pairing sitting outside. It's hard not to have a relaxing day as you are sipping wonderful wines that are perfectly paired with scrumptious bites. Below you will see a Potato & Sweet Onion Tortilla, Gougeres (savory cheese puffs), St. George Cheese with Fig & Quince Jam, Charcuterie, Olives, and Almonds.

If you want a friendly experience, with great wines, great food pairings, and a relaxing setting - Robert Sinskey is for you. Everyone that you meet at the winery will make you feel special. If you visit, you will always return. I promise.

Another highlight of our trip was a visit to Round Pond. They are not new to Napa, but have only recently opened their doors to the public. Not only do they make wonderful wines, but they also produce gourmet olive oils. If asked to describe the tasting room, in a word it is breathtaking. There wasn't an attention to detail missed. As wine consumers, we are so lucky to be able to walk through their doors, experience unique wines, and have access to their decadent olive oils. Meyer lemons...blood oranges...these are terms used to describe the olive oils. The wines are wonderful. If you love cabernet sauvingnon, these wines are definitely worth the tickle on your taste buds. They are big and bold.

And finally, I have to give a shout out to Ad Hoc. If you're familiar with Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry, you will love Ad Hoc. This is another of his brilliant creations. There is only one menu a day which consists of four courses. I have a picture of the mixed green salad with poached shrimp. I couldn't get enough of this salad. It was so fresh. Thomas Keller grows all of his own greens, so odds are, they were picked only a few hours before it was tossed. The balance of the dressing was perfect. I wish you could taste it.

I've only given you a small window into our getaway - a small sampling of our trip. It was divine. It was special. It was relaxing and a true gastronomic experience. It was even more special to share it with my hubby, Jamie.

Honey, here is to 12 happy years of wedded bliss! Kiss...Kiss!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Chicken

Spring. I so look forward to Spring. It is my favorite season. I love the promise that it holds for a glorious summer. Flowers are blooming, the grass is turning greener, and we get to enjoy so much more sunshine in our day. This also means that sandal weather is here. So, as I was contemplating the color of the nail polish to paint my toes, Mother Nature tossed me a surprise. Bare toes - no, no, no. I had to grab socks and throw on a sweater. Shows what I know... It's cold here!

Nothing is worse than being teased with sunny warm days and then have to regroup with coats and comforters. So on this unusually cold day, I felt the overwhelming urge to have something roasting in the oven. I wanted a warm oven to help heat the house. I wanted to have delicious smells emanate from the oven and fill the house with a toasty warmth. Not to succumb to the pressures of a chilly day, I decided to add a little zest to the dish. The smells of freshly cut lemons and oranges certainly brightened up the day. Mother Nature, beware, I still have summer in my sights!

Garlic Citrus Chicken was the perfect dish to roast. First of all, it is super simple. It's as simple as quartering some fresh citrus, stuffing it into the chicken, roasting, and basting with a yummy citrus marinade. The fresh fruit gives the chicken a very bright flavor. When the chicken comes out of the oven, it is so moist and juicy. It was the perfect comfort food, and it really hit the spot. Brown rice with dried apricots and garlic sauteed spinach with pancetta rounded out supper. It was fantastic.

Garlic and Citrus Chicken
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 (5 to 6-pound) whole roasting chicken, neck and giblets discarded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise, plus 3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
Kitchen string or butcher twine

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with the orange, lemon, and garlic halves. Tie the chicken legs together with kitchen string to help hold its shape. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
Place a rack in a large roasting pan. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the rack in the pan. Roast the chicken for 1 hour, basting occasionally and adding some chicken broth to the pan, if necessary, to prevent the pan drippings from burning.

Whisk the orange juice, lemon juice, oil, oregano, and chopped garlic in a medium bowl to blend. Brush some of the juice mixture over the chicken, after it has baked 1hour. Continue roasting the chicken until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the innermost part of the thigh registers 170 degrees F, basting occasionally with the juice mixture and adding broth to the pan, about 45 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Tent with foil while making the sauce (do not clean the pan).

Place the same roasting pan over medium-low heat. Whisk in any remaining broth and simmer until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Strain into a 2-cup glass measuring cup and discard the solids. Spoon the fat from the top of the sauce. Serve the chicken with the pan sauce.

Monday, April 7, 2008

79, 79, Oh How Wonderful to be 79!!!

I am so happy to utter the phrase, "Happy Birthday, Mom!!" How wonderful is it to be celebrating a birthday as special as the big 7-9!! Well, Miss Margaret is truly experiencing this occasion. Her birthday was April, 4th. And, "yes", she celebrated her 79th year of making her mark on this earth. She is always blessing us with her very unique presence.

As this week approached, I knew that I would want to write a special post, just for her... I wasn't sure of what bake, but I knew it would all be in the honor of her birthday. The flowers pictured below are pure, white, fragrant, and oh so bloomed. It is the perfect flower for a woman who has lived all of her life opening herself up to the world.

Mom, this is blog is for YOU.

So, as this day approached, I knew that I wanted to do something special for her. Jamie and I had already decided to treat her to a special dinner in a fine restaurant. This left no room for serious baking. So, I decided to surprise her with her most favorite cookie - the famous "Spiced Raisin Cookie". This cookie...sigh...this cookie...sigh...IS utterly, most divinely, delicious. I promise.

How could that be, it's just a cookie, you ask? How can a cookie be described that way? It doesn't have a drop of chocolate in the batter? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Where is your faith?

This cookie, dare I say, does NOT need chocolate!

Well, my mother loves these cookies. If you want to see a 79 year-old woman light up like a Christmas tree, then present her with a plate of warm Spiced Cookies. That is all that you will need to put a big smile on her face.

Spiced Cookies With Raisins
originally from, adapted by Renee

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup chopped raisins
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts (about 4 1/2 ounces)

Beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until creamy. Beat in milk, egg and vanilla. Stir flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and salt in medium bowl. Add to butter mixture; beat to blend. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Cover dough and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours (dough will be sticky).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto heavy large baking sheets, spacing evenly. Bake until cookies are pale golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to racks; cool 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks; cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.) Makes about 75.