Thursday, February 12, 2009

Luxe Red Velvet Cheesecake

Do you dream in chocolate? If you do, good for you. I happen to dream in chocolate, caramel and cheesecake. Smooth, velvety cheesecake. I can't think of anything better as a sweet treat for DH and I during Valentine's week.

Before I get to that though, have you noticed how every talk show this week is featuring these "surprise proposals"? It's annoying and endearing at the same time. Annoying because this kind of thing always looks a little fake to me, especially when the guy delivers his lines in that rehearsed, monotonous voice. It would probably be better if they did it off-camera. But it's still endearing because the woman always (repeat, always) bursts into genuine tears of joy. Or is she upset that he got an ugly ring and now she's stuck with it?! Can't even say "no" because she's on TV! Hmmm, you men are pretty crafty.

The funniest proposals are the ones where the guy sneaks the ring into her food, and she literally has to spit it out. Oh that's romantic. Mush-and-saliva-covered jewellery is so attractive. I know it would be a real problem if DH had proposed to me that way. Especially if he had hidden the ring in a slice of this Red Velvet Cheesecake (with an Oreo crust no less!). The way I dig into this thing, there is no way I'd even know there was a ring inside. Only the X-ray would show me, once I got rushed to the hospital. Then of course, there's the morning after ... ugh, this train of thought is going down a terrible road. Best to stop now!
Back to this cheesecake. My hat's off to Peabody for inspiring me to finally make this. That woman is a master with all things baked. Her photographs and recipes are designed to knock you off any ridiculous diet you may be on (so diabetics, beware!). Annie over at Annie Eats also made this cheesecake, and for this version I used her clever switcheroos in the ingredients - that Oreo crust is genius.

Luxurious Red Velvet Cheesecake (adapted from the blog Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and Annie Eats)

For the Crust:
1 ½ cups Oreo cookie crumbs
¼ cup butter, melted
1 TBSP granulated sugar

For the Filling:
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup sour cream
½ cup whole buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
2 (1 oz) bottles red food coloring
For the Topping:
4oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325F.

Planting soil? Nope - Oreo cookie crumbs!

2. Stir together cookie crumbs (if you're making the crumbs at home from whole Oreo cookies, there's no need to remove the cream filling), melted butter and 1 TBSP sugar; press mixture onto bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (it's fine if you have an 8-inch pan or a 10-inch one).

3. Bake the crust for 8 mins, then take it out and leave to cool.

4. In a blender, add eggs, unsweetened cocoa, sour cream, buttermilk, vanilla extract, vinegar, cream cheese, and sugar. Mix until fully combined. I had to do mine in two batches, because my blender just couldn't contain all that filling.

5. Pour the mixed batter into a large bowl and add the food coloring. Mix well with an electric beater.
Oops, look what I just did! How silly of me!

6. Pour batter into prepared pan woth crust. Put it on a baking sheet (very important, in case you get any leaks!). Bake at 325F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300F, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until center is firm.
Look, she's smiling at me! You madam, are F-I-N-E!

7. Turn oven off, prop open the oven door a little bit, and let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven; cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 more minutes. Then cover and chill for 8 hours.

8. For the topping: Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator and spread topping evenly over top of cheesecake. Remove sides of springform.
Oggle your supernaturally gorgeous creation for a while, then cut yourself a nice big honkin' slice and dig in!
Verdict: That color, OH that color! Retina-searing awesomness! It drives me mad! I love it, and I really love the flavor of this cheesecake. Usually, it's the filling that's the star of the show, but this time, the winning flavors came from that insanely delicious Oreo crust, and that devious frosting. The buttermilk gives it an additional tanginess, while the cocoa powder counters it by its mellowing effect. I might even add an another tbsp of it next time. In case you're curious, DH pronounced that he "really liked it" but didn't "love" it. Funny how he still managed to finish the entire big slice I cut up for him though. Like I said ... men ... crafty little creatures.

Looks like a blood bath!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sensual & Earthy - Beetroot Risotto

For those of you who were not able to tune in to last night's episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, consider yourself fortunate. You saved yourself from a very restless night, of falling in and out of agonizing dreams about melting cheeses, dripping chocolate, tender meats, and pillowy soft bundles of uni. Oh gosh ... I was craving uni! How can I crave uni when I've never even tasted it?! All I know is, I must have it. Soon. Preferably with pasta and caviar, made by the expert hands of the divine Eric Ripert. That, my friends, is the power of great TV.

Unfortunately, the reality is that I'm not going to be having uni anytime soon (unless some generous reader can send some over?). Mainly because: a) Le Bernardin isn't exactly the kind of restaurant one can just walk into, desperately demanding uni, and b) uni is f-----g expensive! And we're in a recession, dammit!

Still, don't cry for me (Argentinaaaaaaaa!) ... yeah, I couldn't resist. I made this amazing Beet and Cheddar Risotto to console myself. In keeping with my Valentine's Week theme, this risotto fits right in. It starts off a glamorous shade of fuschia, then mellows out to a vibrant shade of red. The taste of the beets combined with the cheddar cheese is so deep and earthy and satisfying. And then there's the feel of the risotto in your mouth - oh lordie. Smooth. Sensuous. Sumptuous.
I've made this dish several times, and it works every time. The thing with risotto though, is that it's best when you eat it as soon as it's ready. And it's not something you can make for a crowd. This is for those special moments when it's just you, or you and your lovebug. DH enjoys it just as much as I do (I know! I was surprised too!). It's comfort food for me, and it's easy to whip up as long as you have the right ingredients on hand. I love eating it in a bowl, on our cozy couch, entwined with DH. So you see how perfect it is for Valentine's Week? Or any other romantic occasion for that matter. Just make it - your day will become more romantic!

Beet and Cheddar Risotto (adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)
Serves 2

1 medium beetroot, peeled and quartered
2 cups loosely packed beet greens, stems trimmed
2 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving (optional)
1. Place the beet in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the beet greens and pulse until finely chopped.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and vegetable broth to a simmer.
3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes.
4. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
5. Stir in the beets and beet greens and cook for 1 minute.
6. Add the broth to the large saucepan, 1 ladleful at a time, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the liquid is nearly absorbed between additions, 20 minutes.
7. Add the cheddar; season with salt and pepper.
8. Cook, stirring until the risotto is creamy and thick, 3 minutes longer. Serve in deep bowls, passing the Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side (or more cheddar, like I did).

Nutritional Info: The beetroots are high in folic acid (great for those of you who are preggers), potassium, calcium and antioxidants. Leafy beet greens are also very nutritious and can be used for juicing, or cooking as you would any other green. In fact the beet tops are more nutritious than the roots. The greens contain significantly more iron (even more than spinach), vitamin A, potassium and calcium than the roots. See, this risotto is carbolicious and nutritious! Perfection.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

TFF - Ultimate Chili Cheese Dog

I think we should have Game Day foods every weekend. It just makes the whole meal so festive! And of course, it's a lot of fun to watch DH getting all excited. Like most of his gender, he likes to unwind in front of his big-screen TV, chomping down on some man-food, with an endless supply of soda on the side. Even if there's no game to his liking on TV, he'll get just as pumped watching back-to-back episodes of How It's Made (*groan* I reeeeeeeally don't care how they make circular saw blades or windshield wipers!) or How Do They Do It, and other such shows that I could easily sleep through. But I don't mind sacrificing the remote for a couple of hours (as long as I get it back in time for reruns of No Reservations), and anything is bearable if you have enjoyable food in front of you.

This recipe for the Ultimate Chili Cheese Dogs is another reason why I'm so happy to be a part of Tyler Florence Fridays. I'm discovering that Tyler's recipes are so easy to follow, and am such a fan of the big, bold flavors he isn't afraid to use. This recipe is a solid HOME RUN! I've had my fair share of chili cheese dogs at carnivals and amusement parks, but this home-made version turned out to be the best one I've ever had (a sentiment that was seconded whole-heartedly by DH). Man-food like this can make any girl go weak in the knees!
Ultimate Chili Cheese Dogs (my adaptation of Tyler's recipe)
Serves: 4 servings

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
3/4 of a medium bottle of ketchup, about 2 cups
1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 tsp ground cumin (optional, but I like it)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 all-beef hot dogs
8 hot dog rolls
1 cup grated Cheddar


1. Put a skillet over medium heat and drizzle in the olive oil. When the oil gets hazy, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef, breaking it up with the back of a spoon, and cook until nicely browned, about 10 more minutes.

3. Stir in the ketchup, chili powder, ground cumin, and mustard and simmer for 15 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

4. While the chili is cooking, get the grill/frying pan/skillet going.

5. Bring a pot of water up to a simmer and parboil the dogs for about 5 minutes. Take them out of the water, pat them dry, and grill/sear them just long enough to mark them. (That'll give them a grilled flavor too.)

6. Brush the insides of the rolls with olive oil and lay them face down on the grill; cook until toasty. To serve, put a dog in each roll and top with the chili and some (ok, lots!) cheddar cheese.

Verdict: Like I said earlier - best chili dogs ever! That hot dog chili is perfect for this purpose. You might be skeptical about using that much ketchup (I was - ended up using 3/4 of a bottle instead of the whole bottle as Tyler instructed, but it worked for me), but it really melds well with the ground meat and spices, giving the whole thing a smoky, complex flavor - it's a party in your mouth. Parboiling then grilling the dogs is a great idea too, because it gives the hot dog that extra bite. Being a New Yorker, I know a great hot dog when I taste it! Pair it with seasoned oven-fries and you've got yourself a family favorite.

All of next week, I'll be posting recipes with a Valentine's theme. Not because I really celebrate it (boring story, will get to it later), but because I think theme-cooking is fun! That is, if my silly Ozzy-cat will ever let me get to it. Every time I sit on the computer to research some interesting recipes, or post to my blog (a noble calling, if I do say so myself), he'll keep assaulting me till I prop my legs up on the edge of the bed and let him get comfortable in my lap - where he will proceed to purr and cuddle and knead my flesh with his sharp claws, till he falls fast asleep. *Sigh* ... ok fine, my heart melts when he does that, but I can never get any work done!