Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh, That Sweet Tooth!
Man cannot live by bread alone - he must have sweets, too! Yeah, I know all about the deadly whites and the negative effects of sugar, but let's face it, every now and then the spirit yearns for dessert!
For years, I've disciplined myself not to buy sweets or junk food when I shop. Most times when the urge for sweets rears its seductive head, there's nothing in the house to lead me into temptation. But every now and then, I succumb to the urge and bake a goodie or two.
I rarely am tempted to buy anything at the market, as not only are store-bought sweets outrageously expensive, but most supermarket baked goods are tasteless non-entities filled with chemicals, artificial flavors and colorings along with hydrogenated oils. It's no wonder they're tasteless.
At least when I bake at home, I'm able to maintain control over what goes into the dish. The following are not considered health foods, just in case you were expecting a tofu/whole wheat/carob wonder bar. These are favorite desserts, easy to make, and sure to please the panting penchant for pastry.

The very first 9" pie plate I bought had a little peel off label inside with a picture and recipe for cheesecake. I've been making the same recipe ever since -- over 40 years. It's easy, quick, foolproof and outrageously rich and creamy with just a slight zing. The plain cheesecake pictured above can also be enhanced with a cherry or blueberry topping. Turned into a holiday favorite with the addition of pumpkin or elevated to a decadent plateau with the addition of a liquor --Amaretto, Frangelico or my favorite, Grand Marnier. Baking them in a bain marie (water bath) ensures a smooth, crack-free top as well as a moist, creamy filling. The little 4" springform pans, pictured above, are perfect for singles. Eat one now, freeze the others. The following recipe is for a 9 inch springform pan, providing 10 - 12 servings.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted; 3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs; 2 lbs cream cheese (4 8oz packages); 1 1/4 cups sugar; 4 large eggs; 1 teaspoon lemon zest, minced; 2 teaspoons vanilla; 1/4 cup heavy cream; 1/4 cup sour cream. Bake on middle rack of oven at 325° for approximately 55 to 60 minutes.

Brush melted butter over sides and bottom of springform pan. Sprinkle graham crumbs over, tilting pan to coat evenly. Cover pan underneath and up sides with aluminum foil to prevent leakage. Set in large baking pan and bring kettle of water to a boil for water bath.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat on medium speed until sugar dissolves. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, scraping down bowl after each addition. Add zest and vanilla -- beat until just incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until perimeter of cake is set, but center jiggles like Jell-O when pan is tapped, 55 - 60 minutes.

Turn off heat and leave oven door ajar, using a long handled fork or spoon to hold it open for one hour longer. Remove pan from water bath and set on wire rack; cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.

Apple Crumble

"Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven."

A La Mode

With fall in the air -- somewhere, it's apple picking time. Maybe not in Florida but in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Michigan, to name just a few of the apple growing states,orchards are flush with ripe fruit. Families pile into cars on weekends to head for the U Pick 'Em sites, filling baskets, boxes and bags with that biblically notorious fruit -- the apple.

Pies are great but for many, making and rolling pie crusts is not only time consuming and intimidating but pie crusts are a bit high on the caloric scale. A flaky crust is the product of a good amount of shortening! Crisps and crumbles are quick and easy to make, while still delivering that soul satisfying sensation of a hot homemade apple treat.

The crumble above was made with 6 Gala apples and a handful of raisins, baked in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. Design your own signature apple crumble with the addition of nuts, and other dried fruit instead of raisins. Dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried cherries are all good options. Raisins happened to be all I had on hand the other day when I baked this crumble. No additions are really necessary; the apples can stand on their own. Dried fruits and nuts add an element of surprise as well as a little extra nutrition.

Filling: Peel, core and dice about 5 cups of apples. In a large bowl mix the apples with 3/4 cup dried fruit of choice and 1/2 cup of broken nut pieces. (Walnuts or pecans are nice) 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1/3 cup of sugar.

Topping: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, working them together until crumbly and well mixed. Or using a food processor, pulse until crumbly.

Heat the oven to 400°. Spoon the apple mixture into a 6 cup baking dish and sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Place the dish on a cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until the apples are tender when pierced with a knife and the topping is brown and crusty. Best served lukewarm. Wonderful with ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Florida State Pie - It's Official!

Key Lime Pie in Poor Lighting

I was so relieved to read earlier this summer that the state legislature had reached a unanimous decision to make Key Lime pie the official state pie. Knowing our representatives are so hard at work enacting such crucial legislation on our behalf, lets us all sleep better, doesn't it?

I've made many a lemon meringue pie in my life, but I'd never made a lime pie. Spurred on by the thorough research and development of cooking teacher and author, Stephen Schmidt on behalf of Cook's Illustrated (April 1997), I couldn't pass up the temptation to whisk up the State pie, particularly since it only involved three ingredients: limes, eggs and condensed milk.

Make, or heaven forbid, buy a 9" graham cracker crust and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes in a 325° oven, remove to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Leave oven on.

Filling: 4 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1/2 cup strained lime juice (3 or 4 limes); 4 large egg yolks;1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz). Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl until tinted light green. Beat in milk, then juice; set aside at room temperature to thicken. Pour lime filling into cooled crust and bake until center is set yet wiggly when jiggled. (15-17 minutes). Place pie on wire rack to cool to room temperature then refrigerate until well cooled.

Dollops of whipped cream can be added to the pie at serving time or added decoratively, using a pastry bag, as in the image above. Sweet, addictive and official!


Book Nook

Minnette Walters - The Devil's Feather

Walters brings us her 12th psychological thriller set firmly in the 21st century and our present engagement in the middle east, interweaving themes of abuse, rape and the elements of freedom. A quick, easy read.

Jane Gardam - Old Filth

The New York Times Book Review said, "Splendid . . . Jane Gardam's style is perfect." I couldn't agree more. This is an amazing depiction of an era and a main character that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. I heartily encourage you to make this a must read. It won't disappoint.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." - Ray Bradbury

'Til next time . . . keep on cooking!

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