Archive | December, 2010

Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake

29 Dec

I love cheesecake.  Not that fluffy french nonsense… or that  no-bake stuff… but rich, dense, delicious, cheesecake.  I had never made cheesecake before, because I didn’t have a spring-form pan.  I thought by the time I invested in the pan, plus the ingredients, I’d have a pretty expensive cheesecake on my hands.  On Christmas Eve, a beautifully wrapped package was presented to me by my parents.  Inside were all of the little things that I needed for my kitchen, but wasn’t prepared to purchase for myself.  They got me a bundt pan, a Paula Deen pie board, and a set of 3 spring-form pans.  I knew I was going to have to make a cheesecake before the end of the year.

But, baking cheesecake is a daunting task.  There are many recipes out there, so where do you start?  I thought about trying a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, but she bakes her cheesecake in a water bath, and I don’t even have a pan large enough for a water bath.  So, that was not going to work for me.  So, I thought Kraft (the makers of Philadelphia Cream Cheese) would definitely have a recipe on their website.  Bingo!  Their recipe could not be simpler!  I would have loved to try a complicated cheesecake recipe, but I thought, why not get the basics down first?

This recipe was a success for me.  Out of the four people I presented with a slice, not one complained.  One of those people claimed to not even care for cheesecake, but liked it.  This recipe doesn’t make a super dense cheesecake, but I still enjoyed it.  It’s creamy, and it melts in your mouth.  Plus, it is so easy!  No water bath, no complicated ingredients, and my cheesecake didn’t even crack.  Cracks don’t really matter to me though, and to quote Frank Barron from Everybody Loves Raymond, “The stomach knows not ugly.”  P.S. I actually screwed up on this a little one.  I used an 11 inch spring-form instead of the 9, because I assumed the largest in my set of 3 pans was the 9-inch.  I didn’t adjust the cooking time at all, and it came out just fine.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups HONEY MAID Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp.  sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 4 pkg.  (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp.  vanilla
  • 4 eggs

Directions:

HEAT oven to 325°F.

MIX graham crumbs, 3 Tbsp. sugar and butter; press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan.

BEAT cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and vanilla with mixer until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Pour over crust.

BAKE 55 min. or until center is almost set. Loosen cake from rim of pan; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate 4 hours.

*Note:  Reduce oven temperature to 300°F if using a dark nonstick springform pan.

Milanesa De Pollo

16 Dec

Did you ever fall in love with something on the menu at a restaurant, and then never really ventured away from your choice?  Has that option then been ripped from the pages of the menu, never to return?  Well, that is what happened to me with Milanesa de Pollo, at a Mexican restaurant called Los Cucos (which has awesome happy hour margaritas, btw).  Now… let me tell you what is so great about this dish.  Regular Milanesa de Pollo is merely a lightly breaded and fried chicken cutlet.  Nothing wrong with that.  But the one I had my food love affair with, was then smothered in ranchero sauce, and topped with Monterrey Jack cheese, melted under the broiler.  Think of it as a Mexican version of Chicken Parmigiana.  In case you’re not in the know, Ranchero sauce is a spicy tomato sauce flavored with peppers, onion, garlic, and spices.  It is very versatile, and worth making homemade, but can probably be easily found in the grocery store.

Let’s get this party started.  Can I get a frozen margarita with salt, please?

Milanesa De Pollo Ingredients

  • About 1/2 cup of flour for dredging
  • Breadcrumbs (use whatever pre-seasoned kind you like)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (Or however many you want, you’ll just have to increase the egg mixture.)
  • Enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Butterfly your chicken breasts, and beat them til flat.  A rolling pin works great for this, or a meat tenderizer, or the bottom of a heavy pan… your fists?  Not so much…  If you wrap your chicken in plastic wrap before beating it, there is less mess.  This is a great stress reliever.

Now that you have your chicken pounded out, I hope you didn’t get carried away, season with salt and pepper.  After you’ve seasoned your chicken, dredge it in flour.  This step will help with keeping your breading on the chicken.

Take your eggs, and mix them with about a teaspoon of cool water, and beat lightly.  Dip the flour-dredged chicken in the egg mixture, and then into your breadcrumbs.  This process is best done in an assembly line.  Set up your plate of flour, bowl of egg, then plate of breadcrumbs, and the assembly line should end at your stove top.

In a large skillet, pour enough oil (vegetable oil, olive oil, whatever you have) to coat the bottom of the pan.  Heat the oil on Medium-High for a few minutes.  You want the oil to be hot before you start cooking your chicken.  Cook the chicken on both sides until golden brown.  (2-3 minutes on each side)

Now you’re ready to smother with your homemade ranchero sauce.  Place your Milanesa De Pollo in the bottom of a baking dish.  Pour Ranchero sauce on top, much like you would pour tomato sauce on Chicken Parmigiana.  Sprinkle with Monterrey Jack, and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  This should not take long at all.  Please don’t ruin all your hard work by walking away from the oven.  This only takes a minute or two.

Ranchero Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 TBSP oil
  • One large (28 oz) can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and rough chop, or just squeeze in your hands
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (I honestly added this because I had some leftover in the fridge, but it does make a richer tasting sauce).re
  • 1 or 2 Jalapenos, I leave the seeds in, because I like spice, but you could seed it.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • As much cilantro as you like (optional).  I just tore off a hand full.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin (optional)

Add the oil to the bottom of a sauce pan and heat on medium low.  Sweat your onion and garlic in the pan.  This means, you don’t want any color on your veggies.  Cook until transparent.  You will be able to smell the onion and garlic when they’re getting close to being done.  Then, add your jalapeno, tomato, tomato paste, and cilantro.  Season with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Let this sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Like any tomato sauce, the longer you allow the flavors to marry in the pot, the better it tastes.  Once you’ve cooked the sauce to your liking, you’re going to puree it in the blender or food processor.  That’s it.  Easy, right?

This is my first time making Ranchero sauce, so I’m sure I will tweak this recipe in the future.  If you have a tried and true recipe for your Ranchero sauce, by all means, use it.  That’s the great thing about cooking.  You can change recipes to adapt your own tastes.

Snowflake Sugar Cookies

14 Dec

I love to bake things that are not only delicious, but are aesthetically pleasing.  These cookies are so beautiful, and who else do I have to thank but Paula Deen?  I just love her, and I find myself going back to her recipes more than any other TV Chef.  I think it’s because we’re both from the south, and even though I’m not typically southern, I certainly appreciate her love of butter and bacon!  (P.S. I make a Chocolate Chip Bacon Cookie, let me know if you’re interested in that recipe.)

Anyway, a few years ago, this cookie was featured in the series of recipes called “The Twelve Days of Cookies,” hosted by Food Network.  I knew I had to make these the moment I saw them.  They’re buttery, almondy (that’s not a word, but oh well), and just gorgeous.  Paula’s secret ingredient to making these sugar cookies a little extra special, is almond extract.

I will say, that these cookies can be a little pricey to make, initially.  When I made these three years ago, I didn’t have a snowflake cookie cutter.  Surprisingly, it is hard to find a pretty snowflake cookie cutter.  The one I ended up with was eight dollars, for ONE cookie cutter.  The dragees are also a little pricey, at around eleven dollars for a jar (You might be able to find them cheaper, but there was only one brand available where I shop.  You can find them with the specialty spices/sprinkles).   The good news is, they last forever.  You don’t need a lot of them.  As a bonus, this year I stocked up, because I found a bunch marked down to three dollars.  The meringue powder costs another five dollars or so.   I’m not trying to discourage anyone from making these cookies.  Just know, that if you make your grocery list, be prepared to spend a little more than you usually would for cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Edible Paint Icing, recipe follows

Garnish: silver dragees, sugar pearls, sparkling sugar

Directions

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extract until combined.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Wrap dough in heavy-duty plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with assorted snowflake cookie cutters and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Chill dough 15 minutes. Bake for 10 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned. Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Paint cookies with Edible Paint Icing. Garnish with silver dragees, sugar pearls and sparkling sugar, if desired.

Edible Paint Icing:

  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Food coloring, optional

In a medium bowl, combine water and meringue powder; whisk until foamy. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add food coloring, if desired. Use immediately.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies (Santa’s Cookies)

14 Dec

Christmas is my favorite holiday.  Before working in retail, I thought everyone loved this time of year.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of scrooges out there.  However, the one thing a scrooge won’t refuse, is a delicious Christmas cookie.  This could very well be the cookie to bring some Christmas cheer to the scrooge in your life.

This cookie recipe is a family recipe.  We make it every year at Christmas, we called them Santa’s Cookies when I was a kid.  My sisters and I left 3 or 4 of these bad boys out for Santa with a tall glass of milk, along with a plate of oats for his reindeer.  You know what?  We always got awesome presents.

So, enjoy this cookie with a tall glass of milk.  And don’t forget to leave a few out for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter (softened)
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/8 Cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 6 oz (half a bag) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 Cup of pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cream butter with both brown and white sugar, and mix 1 egg. Add 1 tsp. vanilla, mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift 1-1/8 cup flour, 1/8 tsp. salt & 1 tsp soda & add to wet mixture, in batches.  By hand, add oatmeal, chocolate chips and pecans.  You will need to mix the last three ingredients by hand, because the dough will be thick.  You wouldn’t want to overwork your mixer, or break your favorite wooden spoon.

Roll about tablespoon sized cookie dough balls in your hands, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for approximately 13 minutes.