Shades of Van Gogh

I bought a jar of tahini the other day and cannot leave it alone.  It should be sold with a warning label.

I am hooked. I put tahini on or in everything, and it keeps tasting better.  I write these words as I eye my latest showstopper. I am worried because I may polish this cheesecake off before the sun comes up.

It all began with my musing over the possibilities of a tahini cheesecake.    Mmmm.      That’s when the not-so-obvious addition of turmeric registered.  Now that’s intriguing.  Yes, turmeric interests me, too.  I want to explore its rumored health advantages, its lovely color, its mysterious flavor…  But, wait! Why not throw in a gingersnap and date crust and see what happens?

Tahini Date Cheesecake whole (1)

I hit the kitchen and gather up what’s on hand: Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese.  Ah, yes.  Elegant, nuanced… a bit of honey for sweetener is spot on.  Into the pressure cooker it all goes for 30 minutes.  That’s it.

Well, what can I say?  The filling’s golden color is worthy of a Van Gogh painting.

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The flavor is subtle—yet profound. It evokes the question, “Is it really that good?” Perhaps another bite… or two.

Ah, yes, it is certainly good for me. I have no shame.  Call the doctor.

Tahini-Turmeric Cheesecake with Ginger-Date Crust

Inspired by cheesecake from:  http://flavorrd.com/2016/07/instant-pot-greek-yogurt-cheesecake/

Ingredients
Crumb crust
1 cup ginger snaps, fine crumb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup dates, chopped
Filling
4 oz. cream cheese, regular or Neufchatel, softened
1/3 cup tahini
½ teaspoon turmeric, toasted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Spray a 7” springform pan with non-stick spray and line bottom with parchment.
  2. For the crust: crush the cookies into fine crumbs, using either a food processor or a ziploc bag and rolling pin. Stir in the melted butter. When well combined add the dates and stir to distribute evenly. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan, pressing firmly and spreading the crust about halfway up the sides of the pan (the bottom of a drinking glass works well for this job).
  3. For the filling: toast the turmeric in a small bowl in the microwave about one minute, until aromatic. In mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light.  Whip in the tahini, then the turmeric honey, vanilla and sea salt until well combined. Add Greek yogurt and whip until smooth.  , sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, and whip together until very smooth. Then add the eggs, mixing until just combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the springform pan, being careful to fully cover the crust around the edges (if any crumbs are exposed, they can become soggy from the moisture in the pressure cooker).
  5. Place a trivet rack into the pressure cooker, and pour in 1 cup of water. Place the cheesecake on top of the trivet and close the lid. Set the valve to sealing position, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. When done, turn off cooker and let stand for 5 minutes without disturbing, then release pressure.
  6. Open the lid and use the trivet handles to lift out the pan. If water has settled on top of the cheesecake, gently blot any excess with a paper towel.
  7. Allow the cheesecake to cool on a rack at room temperature for 1-2 hours, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill completely (at least 4 hours). Serves: 1 to 8.
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Behind the Curve?

Cream of tartar is one of those odd little pantry ingredients that many of us haven’t a clue what it really does. Beyond stabilizing egg whites when making meringue, what really is its value?

While contemplating a slew of Snickerdoodle recipes recently I was stumped that many included cream of tartar as an essential ingredient. Turns out cream of tartar is an acid that causes a reaction when combined with baking soda. The leavening effect results in soft, chewy, addictive, cookies that you simply cannot leave alone.snickerdoodle (1)

In some circles Snickerdoodles are viewed as an American institution. With such lofty status no wonder they are added to commercial ice cream, as if frosting on a cake.

Their powdery cinnamon-sugar finish makes them iconic, too, so don’t omit.  Since many recipes are quite lavish on that count, the following amount of cinnamon may seem wimpy by serious aficionados.  From my limited perspective they are balanced and need nothing more than a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

Snickerdoodles

Inspired by Lil’ Luna’s Snickerdoodles

Ingredients
1 cup butter (softened)
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
  2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a mixing bowl beat the butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. In 1 tablespoon scoops, roll the dough into balls, then roll each into the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, until the edges just begin to brown slightly. Carefully remove to rack to cool. They will be fragile, but firm up as they cool.  Yield: about 48 cookies.

Transactional Analysis and the Relational Value of Steamed Pudding

It could be my New England roots, but I dearly love a good steamed pudding.  Deeply flavored, moist and dense, it touches my soul.  A steamed pudding speaks to me of  family hearths and seasonal traditions.

I had my heart set on a Persimmon Pudding, much like the one my sister-in-law, Jan makes.  Her well-balance cake has been in her family for generations, and bears all the ear markings of a time honored treasure. It is made in the Joy of Cooking mode of creaming the butter and sugar, then eggs and such are mixed in, followed by the dry ingredients, and finally, all other additives like nuts and raisins are stirred in.

Since persimmons have been readily available this year I was excited about the possibilities. I purchased a few good looking Hachiya and set them out to ripen.  Two weeks later, still hard as rocks, it looked like the persimmons would not be ripe for a couple more weeks—perhaps in time for Christmas!

With persimmons out of contention for the moment, it looked like pumpkin might be the next best option.  Besides, it’s Thanksgiving.  Why not give pumpkin its chance to shine?

Turns out, pumpkin works well as a replacement for persimmons, with a few minor adjustments.  Since persimmons can have a high acidity, baking soda is often used as a buffer. In this case, the baking soda was eliminated in lieu of baking powder for leavening.  And what is pumpkin without brown sugar? So, a little was added in lieu of granulated sugar. Everyone was happy and into the mold it went!

In Jan’s recipe, the pudding was steamed on the stovetop for 2 long hours.  Thanks to my trusty Instant Pot, the pressure cooker could reduce that cooking time by as much as 60-70%.  Given the numbers, I opted for 35 minutes, with an additional partial natural pressure release time of 5 minutes. Worse case, I reckoned I could return it to the pressure cooker if it was not set.

Once complete and out of the pressure cooker, I opened the mold and checked the contents.  It had raised, was a deep amber color, and the top looked quite moist, but that is not uncommon. I dabbed the excess moisture off with a paper towel, and moved it to a cooling rack.  In no time, the cake began to pull away from the sides—which I took as a very good sign.  It was holding its shape without a problem.  Given 10 minutes, it easily unmolded onto the rack for further cooling.  We have steamed pudding!

On this Thanksgiving, here’s wishing you all the joy of good food and good company.

Steamed Pumpkin Pudding

Inspired by Jan C’s family Persimmon Pudding

Ingredients
1/3 cup softened butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 ounces, or 1 can pumpkin pulp, approximate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Instructions

  1. In advance: coat a 6 cup baking mold well with butter or spray thoroughly with bakers non-stick spray.
  2. Plump the raisins and orange juice: in a small microwaveable bowl, cover with wrap, and heat for 40 seconds in the microwave; set aside to plump.
  3. Combine the flour through the cinnamon and set aside.
  4. Set up Instant Pot with a rack, pour in 3 cups water and begin to heat the water, set to Saute function.
  5. To prepare the pudding: in a mixing bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar, then beat in the brown sugar. Add the egg and beat well.
  6. Mix the pumpkin and vanilla into the butter and egg mixture. Add the dry ingredients,  stir to combine. Add the raisins and nuts.
  7. Spread the batter into the mold, and cover with the lid if it fits in the pot, or lightly cover with foil. Set onto raised rack in the Instant Pot with water bath and seal the lid.
  8. Using Manual setting, adjust to Low Pressure and set timer to 35 minutes. When complete, allow Natural Release for 5 minutes and then use Quick Release.  Remove from Instant Pot and let cool about 20 minutes before unmolding.
  9. If time permits, make a day or two in advance to allow flavors to blend. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator.  Serve with custard sauce, a hard sauce or whipped cream.  Serves 6 or more.

Let Them Eat Cake

Oops! I almost ate the last piece of this incredible cake without taking time for a blog photo. That is what happens when you care more about eating cake than preserving its place in history.

What’s in a name?  Somehow, chocolate-and-zucchini do not incite great waves of excitement.  I don’t know if this is the impetus of Clotilde Dusoulier’s beloved blog Chocolate and Zucchini, but it surely should be. As Clotilde aptly describes her Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, ‘the grated zucchini melds into the batter and the strands disappear… into a voluptuous chocolate flavored cake.’

Admittedly, chocolate is not my thing.  But if there is anything that would change my mind, it would not be a flourless chocolate cake, or a rich chocolate truffle, it would be this cake. Right out of the oven, the charming exterior has a crisp brownie-like crust which is elegantly foiled by its light, well-constructed interior crumb.

Thanks to the mysterious zucchini addition, it is perfectly moist, and for a chocolate cake the butter/oil content is surprisingly low. It is a well-balanced cake, not too sweet, but deeply flavored with cocoa powder, chocolate bits, and a hint of coffee.  Yes, it’s all of that.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

From Clotilde Dusoulier’s award winning blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. First published in April 2004 and updated in August 2017.
 
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup olive oil, plus a pat butter or teaspoon oil for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped
Confectioner’s sugar or melted bittersweet chocolate (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan or 8 1/2-inch square pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, or by hand in a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.
  5. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t overbake.
  7. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or a chocolate glaze if desired.  Serves 12

Biscotti | The Cookie that Keeps on Giving

While rearranging a pantry shelf recently I came across an errant bag of biscotti that had shifted off by itself, becoming the clear culprit in the current traffic jam.

Biscotti du jour

I opened the bag and I gave it the sniff test—a lingering scent of cardamom drifted out.  On the bag I had scribbled near illegibly, ‘Ginger Cardamom’, likely lost remnants of my last biscotti du jour effort.  I do that.  I’ll have a new favorite biscotti that I get stuck on and keep baking more of the same.

Biscotti can be fickle.  The dough can be temperamental and far more trouble than it is worth.  The double baking which aids in its longevity creates an additional step, so let’s keep it simple. Here is my basic recipe for a tender biscotti that I change up with different additions of dried fruit, nuts, flavorings, etc.  It is a very malleable dough that can be quickly mixed by hand.

Ginger in any form is a reoccurring theme on this site.  I adore it because it is soothing, satisfying, and spicy enough to pack a good punch.  Since cardamom is seductive and supportive in its own flavor profile, these two team nicely together.

My saved cooking notes on this batch indicate that I added a dash of sesame oil.  I still like that notion. Call me a purist, but when it comes to nuts in biscotti, I have my moments.  In the case of sesame oil, it does not compete with the lovely chewiness of the candied ginger, yet complements both the ginger and cardamom.

What a nice surprise! After a month or so lost in storage, these cookies are still good enough to warrant a fresh cup of coffee and another round of biscotti for me and my friends.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti   

Ingredients

1-2/3 cups flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (I included 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Not obvious, but nice)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup candied ginger
Optional drizzle topping: ½ cup white chocolate chips melted with 2 teaspoons coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325-350° F. Prepare parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
  2. Combine dry in small bowl and whisk.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs through vanilla until well blended.  With spatula, stir in dry ingredients just to combine.  Stir in candied ginger.  Scrape onto baking sheet dividing and shaping into 2-3 narrow loaves @  1″ high and 2″ wide, keeping them about 2 ½” apart.  They will spread.
  4. Bake 30 minutes, until firm but springy.  Cool briefly.  Using serrated knife, slice loaves into ½” diagonal slices.  Lay cut side down on sheet.  Bake 12 minutes. Turn slices over and bake 12-15 minutes longer, until light golden brown.  Cool on rack.  If desired drizzle with melted white chocolate. Store airtight at room temperature. Yield: 2-3 dozen biscotti.

Donut Holes—Made Easy

Yes, donut holes with all of the taste, none of the frying, and cute enough to warrant packing one away in each cheek. The real secret to these light, cakelike bites is the coating of cinnamon-sugar that’s held firmly in place by a whisper of butter thinly brushed onto their exteriors while still warm.

Muffins are one of the easiest quick breads to bake, and actually benefit from the least amount of handling. Dust off a mini-muffin pan or two and bake up a batch in absolutely no time. As with any cake donut, we want the contrast of crispy exteriors and light interiors. Here are a few tips to get you there.

For even distribution and rising, sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Over stirring makes tough cone-topped donuts. Combine the liquid ingredients separately and add all at once to the dry ingredients in as few strokes as possible. A few lumps are fine. For consistent cup filling, use a small ½-ounce scoop; a tablespoon will also work.

Muffins are done when they are well-rounded with a light golden color and the centers spring back when pressed. For maximum crispiness do not cool in pan. Run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto cooling rack.

While warm lightly brush each donut hole all over with butter and roll in cinnamon-sugar.  Let rest 15 minutes to allow sugar coating to crystalize, and have at it!

Donut Hole Muffins

Ingredients
1½  cups all-purpose flour
2   tablespoons cornstarch
1½  teaspoons baking powder
½   teaspoon salt
½   teaspoon nutmeg
1   egg
⅓   cup vegetable oil
½   cup granulated sugar
¾   cup milk
Topping
¼   cup butter, melted
½   cup sugar
1   teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° and thoroughly coat mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add the salt and nutmeg and mix well.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and milk.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients just to combine.
  4. Using ½-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, fill the cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed. Turn muffins out onto cooling rack.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small wide bowl. One at a time, lightly brush each muffin all over with melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking rack and repeat. Allow to set up about 15 minutes and serve.  Yield: 24-30 donut holes.

Forget Dinner

I should have known better. I did not expect much, and I was wrong. Maria Speck’s book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals has been a reliable resource in my kitchen for quite a while now, and it has rarely let me down.

It’s one of those recipes I have considered on several occasions but moved on, opting for something else. Perhaps it is because she offers it as primarily a breakfast dish—and it needs an overnight soak. Apparently, I have trouble thinking that far ahead.  Sad.

Maria calls it an Anise Oatmeal Puff.  That sounds interesting. But then she adds an egg, clearly something I’ve had difficulty imagining. Well, for anyone who is a rice pudding fan, take another look.  You receive all the instant gratification, plus it’s made more nutritious with oats.

Maria and her family must surely like it, because her recipe makes enough for 8 stand-alone servings.  This morning I decided to test her idea. I would resize the dry mix and forgo the prescribed overnight soak method.

It’s another microwave wonder:  true bliss in under 5 minutes. Tasty, filling, entertaining, and fast. In fact, I would even make this for dinner—or dessert—and forget dinner.

In all fairness to Maria, I offer her original recipe from sister book Simply Ancient Grains, because it is probably worth making in batches and investing in the overnight soak.  However, if you are like me, and in your first excursion would prefer to pass on the wait, those adjustments also follow.

Anise Oatmeal Puff

Inspiration from Simply Ancient Grains, Maria Speck
 
Ingredients
Dry Oatmeal Mix – 8 servings
2 cups old fashion rolled oats or rolled grains
2/3 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon crushed anise or fennel seeds
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Oatmeal Puff – per serving
1//3 – 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple, agave, or other syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
A few grapes or other fruit such as fresh pear or apple, dried cranberries, dates or prunes
Powdered or cinnamon sugar for dusting, optional

Directions
Prepare the dry oatmeal mix and combine well.  Store airtight.
Allow per serving:

  1. The night before: In microwave safe mug or bowl place 1/3 cup dry oat mix with milk, syrup and vanilla. Cover and chill.
  2. The next morning: In a small bowl beat the egg with a fork until well blended.  Stir it into the mug mixture to combine.  Stir in 3-4 grapes or other fruit.
  3. Place mug in microwave and cook on high 1 minute 20 seconds – it will rise possibly above the rim, but will not spill over. It is done when a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Cook 10 seconds and test.  Let set a few minutes to firm up.  Top with more grapes, dust with cinnamon and serve.

Individual Anise Oatmeal Puff recipe for 1, without overnight soak

  1. In an ovenproof mug combine:
    1/3 cup quick oats
    1 tablespoon dried fruit: cranberries etc.
    Pinch crumbled anise seeds
    Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  2. Add to the oats and mix well:
    1/3 cup milk
    1 tablespoon agave, maple, or other syrup
    Dash almond or vanilla extract
  3. To expedite soaking, warm mixture in microwave for about 40 seconds, stirring every 20 seconds to absorb some of the liquid and expand the oats, but not thoroughly heat.
  4. Beat 1 egg and incorporate in the oat mixture.
  5. Microwave a total of 1 minute and 20 seconds. Half way, rotate the cup for even rising. It is done when a pick or narrow knife inserted in center comes out nearly clean. Let rest about 3 minutes to set up.
  6. Top with a few fresh berries. If desired, sprinkle with powdered or cinnamon sugar.