Lemon Curd Cheesecake – Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

Outside the windchill is frigid. Inside, there is a cheesecake in the oven, the house feels toasty warm, and the Christmas tree is up and decorated. As of yet, there are only a few gifts beneath it, so it’s still open for viewing – from the bottom up.

I lie under the tree with the room lights off and the tree lights fully illuminated and breathe in. The scent of pine floats over, and the soft white light causes the whole tree to glow.

This view of the tree became a tradition in our house when our girls were little. One of them was rolling on the floor close to the tree having a tantrum when she suddenly stopped cold. She’d looked up and become absorbed by how the light hit the branches and reflected off of the ornaments in rainbow prisms and sparkles. All vestiges of the tantrum evaporated in a single moment of distraction. We got down on the floor with her, wanting to reward her new, calm behavior. And we became absorbed too.

The girls are older now, but we’ve carried on the tradition. Today, whoever is needing a moment of calm and peace simply squeezes under the tree to absorb the glow and the scent. Most of our holiday traditions are that way – simple.

I find that if I can remember that one word, “simple,” my holidays nourish the soul. If not, well, you’ve been there too.

So I wish you simple this season – in all things, including cheesecake recipes.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

These two recipes highlight two different ways of easing a cheesecake in and out of baking – slowly raising and lowering the temperature of the batter – to prevent it from drying out or cracking. One uses steam, the other a water bath or, to use the technical term, a bain marie.

Cheesecakes are easily frozen and thawed, should you want to get ahead of the holiday craziness and make it ahead of time. Remove the cheesecake from its springform pan and place it on a cardboard round, then either wrap well or place in a large plastic container with a lid and freeze. It will thaw in several hours at room temperature, then keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.

The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple.  They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.

Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat.  Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care.  They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake.  This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps.  Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat.  Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.

Vanilla Cheesecake
Adapted from a recipe given to me by Ed Quinn. Leave the cream cheese on the counter for 1 hour to reach room temperature.

Serves 12

Crust:
1 1/4 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for the pan

Cheesecake:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup vanilla-flavored liqueur, such as homemade bourbon vanilla or French Vanilla Kahlua
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan. To make the crust, mix the wafers and butter together in a small bowl. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

To make the cheesecake, place a large pan on the lowest rack of your oven and fill it with water to produce steam as the cheesecake bakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the cream cheese in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add the sugar and cornstarch. Add the cream and mix well. The mixture will resemble whipped cream. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the egg yolk, liqueur and vanilla and mix well. Pour the batter over the crust. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. When the cheesecake is done, the center should no longer look wet or shiny but should still be jiggly. Turn the oven off and keep the oven door closed. Let the cake cool in the oven for 2 hours, then remove, cover and refrigerate at least 3 to 4 hours.

When you are ready to serve it, release the cake from the pan by running a thin knife around its edge. To make clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water after each slice.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake
I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who gave me this recipe, but whoever you are – thank you! Leave the cream cheese on the counter for 1 hour to reach room temperature.

Serves 12

Crust:
2 whole graham crackers, finely ground
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake:
3 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon curd:
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

To make the cheesecake, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Brush the inside of a 10-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs, tilting and tapping the pan to coat evenly. Place the pan over two layers of aluminum foil and pull up the sides. This is to prevent water from the water bath from leaking into your pan. Place both the pan and the foil in a large roasting pan and bring a pot of water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Pour the batter into the springform pan. Move the roasting pan into the oven, then pour boiling water into it to come at least halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake 60 to 70 minutes or until the cheesecake is set but the center is still jiggly. Turn the oven off, keep the oven door closed and cool the cheesecake in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the cake and the water bath from the oven.

Prepare the lemon curd about 1 hour before the cheesecake is ready.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, whisk the yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens to a mound, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add the crème fraîche. Stir in the butter, one-third at a time.

Strain the curd through a fine-meshed sieve to remove any egg you inadvertently scrambled, then spread it on top of the cooled cheesecake. Refrigerate the cheesecake 3 to 4 hours.

When you are ready to serve it, release the cake from the pan by running a thin knife around its edge. To make clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water after each slice.

Baked Brie – Holiday Appetizers for a Crowd

Entertaining equals stress in many home kitchens, but fear not. It needn’t be this way! The trick is to choose wisely and plan ahead. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants and let the choices reveal themselves to you. Even if you aren’t a planner. Now is the time to step out of your usual pattern and be kind to yourself by spending a little time thinking and organizing. Then let the rest go.

Clean ahead, set the table ahead, shop ahead, bake ahead. Choose simple but elegant menus. And then enjoy your guests, your clean house and your delicious food.

The appetizers offered here are ones in just this category. Because you’ll be adding lots of flavor to the brie, choose brands that are on the lower end of the price spectrum – ones that you might not choose for a cheese platter, but that will be perfect for the addition of a funky or traditional topping.

Wishing you calm, serene moments with your family and friends.

Crushed Pretzel and Garlic-Crusted Baked Brie

1 8-ounce wheel of brie
1/2 cup crushed pretzels; about 3 pretzel rods
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese, about 1/3 cup lightly packed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic, about 1 clove garlic
Several grinds fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the wheel of brie on an oven proof serving platter or a pie tin. To crush the pretzel rods, place them on a cutting board and roll over them with a rolling pin. The pieces want to be the size of peas, not pulverized into crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the pretzels, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic and pepper. Mix well and mound the mixture on top of the brie wheel. Some will fall off; this is fine. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is beginning to brown and get crispy and the brie has softened and is pliable but the surface is still unbroken.

Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer.

VARIATIONS on the above recipe:

Almond, Cranberry, and Brown Sugar
1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine in a small bowl and mound over brie as in above recipe and bake.

Walnuts and Lemon Marmalade
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons lemon marmalade
Pinch of salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine in a small bowl and mound over brie as in above recipe and bake.

Herb and Sun-Dried Tomato
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until completely combined. Top brie as in above recipe and bake.

Black Olive Tapenade
You can make the tapenade up to two weeks in advance, as it gets better with time. This spread is great as an appetizer with goat cheese as well.

1 cup dried Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons capers
2 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup packed fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Because the capers are so salty, soak them in fresh water for a few minutes to release some of the salt. Drain them after soaking. Puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Refrigerate until ready to serve if making ahead or top brie as in above recipe.

Makes 1 cup

Wellness Tea

Echinacea is a beautiful flower in the herb or perennial garden.  We are lucky enough to have the purple cone flowers dotting several of our beds.  Not only is it a lovely friend to enjoy in the garden, when dried, the flowers and roots have healing and immune boosting properties.

The girls and I dig Echinacea root with our friends every fall so both families have a winter’s supply of dried flowers and roots for tea and tincture.

If you don’t have Echinacea in your garden, no worries, it’s easily found in natural food stores. When anyone feels the first sign of a cold coming on, this is the first things that goes on the stove.

Wellness Tea
2 quarts water
2/3 cup lemon juice from organic lemons; about 3 lemons
9 slices ginger root, 1/8-inch thick
2/3 cup local honey
5 or 6 pieces dried Echinacea root and flowers (use several drops of tincture per mug as a substitute)

Bring the water, ginger root, and Echinacea root to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. If you are using Echinacea tincture reserve this until you pour your steaming mug of tea. Reduce the heat to barely a simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice and honey. Sip all day long as desired, heating up each time. Strain any tea you don’t drink over the day into a glass jar and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Makes 2 quarts

Kickstarter Announcement!

You’ve been asking for it and we’ve found a way to bring it to you – with your help.  What have you been asking for, you say?  Why a new printing of the red cookbook, At Home, At Sea, of course.  I’ve heard ALOT over the past several years it’s been out of print that we should do a second printing.  We are ready!

But here’s the thing… We just printed Sugar & Salt: The Orange Book last year and we haven’t had enough time to recoup our printing costs to turn around and do another printing.  However, E and I are ready and up to the task of putting together a new and updated version of At Home, At Sea for you.

Now, we just need your help!  Check out the details of our Kickstarter campaign.  There are a bunch of fun gift levels from mini-notecards, a Riggin apron, the cookbooks, Maine lobster sent to your door, me as your personal chef, a trip on the Riggin, and an elegant dinner made for you and your 8 guests in your own home.  Thank you for taking the time to check out our latest effort!

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Annie
Testing and writing away here in Maine!

Roasted Carrots, Red Onion, and Kale

Carrots from the garden Photo by Elizabeth Poisson

Roasted Carrots, Red Onion, and Kale
Curly or Russian kale will get a little crispy on the edges in this recipe while Lacinato kale (the longer more wrinkled variety) will wilt more like other greens do. Both are delicious.

1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus another 1/4 teaspoon for the kale
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus another 2 tablespoons for the kale
1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped; about 4 cups

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large roasting pan, drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the carrots and onions. Use your hands to coat evenly. Roast for 1 hour or until the carrots are tender and the onions are beginning to brown. Add the kale and drizzle with more oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well and roast for another 20 minutes or until the kale is bright green and a little crispy on the edges.

Serves 4 to 6

Annie
Clean eating – I’m into it.

Ricotta and Caramelized Onion Stuffed Shells

These babies are not the insipid things that used to pass as your school lunch.  These guys are fun, delightful, and full of yum.  The kale adds a grownup kick and the fresh mozzarella is also a nice bump in flavor.

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Ricotta and Caramelized Onion Stuffed Shells
You will have extra sauce from this recipe, but that is never a problem in our household. Simply freeze what you don’t use for another time.

Homemade Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced onion; about 1 small onion
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic; about 4 cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Filling and Shells
6 ounces jumbo pasta shells
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions; about 1 large onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt (for the kale)
8 ounces kale, chopped; about 8 cups lightly packed
16 ounces ricotta cheese; 2 cups
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese; about 1 cup lightly packed
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (for the filling)
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 large eggs
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

Tomato Sauce
Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then the onions. Sauté the onions for 7 to 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté for another 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Makes 3 to 4 cups

Filling and Shells
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta shells, stirring often when they first go into the pot. Cook until al dente, drain, and then rinse with cold water.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onions, and salt and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes or until translucent and beginning to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the onions are very soft and caramelized. Remove 1/2 cup to a medium bowl (that will receive the ricotta filling). Add the kale to the skillet and cook until wilted but still bright green. Transfer to a 9- x 13-inch casserole dish.

Combine the rest of the filling ingredients, except the eggs and mozzarella, with the onions in a medium bowl. Before adding the eggs, taste for salt. I typically don’t feel any is needed due to the bread crumbs and cheese, but it’s good to double-check.

Scoop soup-spoon portions of filling and press into the shells. Try not to overstuff so that you have enough stuffing at the end. Place the shells onto the kale and cover with 2 cups of tomato sauce. Lay slices of mozzarella over the sauce. Bake for 45 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly on the sides and the filling is cooked through.

Serves 4 to 6

New Cookbook!

Announcing Sugar and Salt: Book Two -The Orange Book!  This collection of recipes from my galley and home kitchen will arrive at our door step (or barn step) soon!  Here’s a look at the process….

Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Over the past several months we’ve been getting serious about producing a cookbook, so we made a lot of food.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Some of it was chocolate! And delicious.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Some of it was healthy. And delicious!
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
When we couldn’t hold all of the pieces in our head any longer, we posted it all over the office walls.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
We got to knit. And made a Ball jar cozy (several actually) using Mim Bird‘s pattern.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Occasionally, we made cocktails. They were well timed.
Then Elizabeth made them look pretty in photos.
Then Elizabeth made them look pretty in photos.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
And then we drank them.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Some of us had lemonade instead. And also, one of us got confused.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
Then we made Brussels sprouts that were so good we almost didn’t get the photo (because we ate them all while standing at the stove).
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
A lot of words got written and someone had to take a doggie break.
Photo by Rocky Coast Photography
And then there was more food.

Annie
Now that was fun!

Click Sugar and Salt to order.

Spring-Dug Leeks

There’s nothing like going out to the garden after a serious winter when the only thing to harvest from the garden is dreams of vegetables yet-to-be-grown and pulling leeks long buried in a mountain of straw.  Satisfaction supreme.SpringDugLeeks3

These sweet babies just had to become soup.  Adding the last of the sweet potatoes from the root cellar, a few white beans leftover from another meal and dinner was born.SpringDugLeeks2Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup with Leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups leeks, diced and washed; about 2 leeks
4 cups sweet potatoes, diced; about 2 sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons garlic, minced; about 3 cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2, 15-ounce cans cannellini beans
1 pork hock
1/2 cup sherry (or more to taste at the end)
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 head escarole, chopped into bite-sized pieces and washed
2 tablespoons tamari (or more)

Heat a medium stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and leeks and sauté until the leeks are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, salt and pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes. Make a small space for the garlic and add it to the pan, sauteing for only 30 seconds to one minute. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the escarole, tamari and extra sherry. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the white beans are soft. Add escarole and tamari and sherry to taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8

Annie
Garden satisfied

Coastal Living’s Daily Catch!

Thank you, Betsy Cribb of Coastal Living Magazine’s Daily Catch, for a great article on the Riggin and our Maine Food Cruises.  You captured it perfectly!

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Salmon with Corn Relish and Zucchini Blossom Fritters. Photo by Elizabeth Poisson.

Annie
In the news!