Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I’m kind-of in love with cheesecake. Creamy, decadent, and rich, it’s definitely a special treat. However, it’s not something I can justify making just for a Sunday afternoon.  The challenge with making something like cheesecake is that it’s a little bit too easy to keep eating if you aren’t serving it to a crowd.

So I decided the safest route would be to make ice cream, and get my cheesecake in a more easily rationed frozen format. So I got out the  ice cream maker, and started brainstorming. I thought of the sour cherries I canned in a light syrup last spring, and ended up trying to recreate New York cherry cheesecake in an ice cream. This ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted–rich and decadent enough have a small scoop satisfy, and with the creamy and tangy combination that I was going for.

The base was pretty simple. Sour cream, cream and eggs get cooked together with the sugar, then cooled overnight (while the ice cream maker gets chilled in the freezer). The next day, throw in a bit if maraschino liqueur of you have it (or vanilla if you don’t), and some cold milk. Since the milk never gets cooked, I ended up using raw milk. I like drinking raw milk, but use pasteurized milk for cooking. I always like to use raw milk in recipes when I can, as it is much easier to digest (and better for you) than pasteurized.

While the ice cream was churning in the ice cream maker, I drained the canned cherries, reserving the liquid. I chopped the preserved sour cherries in half, then added them after the ice cream was frozen. The ice cream comes out looking like soft serve, and needs at least a couple of hours in the freezer to harden. The liqueur in the ice cream helps to keep it from freezing too hard. If you want to create a syrup for your ice cream, you can cook down the syrup from the cherries to make a sauce.

Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

1 pint heavy cream

2 cups whole milk (I used raw milk, as this part is never heated)

16 oz cream cheese, softened

2 cups raw / organic sugar

3 beaten eggs

2 tsp maraschino or kirsch liqueur (or vanilla, if you prefer)

1 cup preserved sour cherries, drained and cut in half (reserve syrup to reduce for topping)

In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream, sugar, and eggs. Cook and stir over medium heat until it begins to thicken. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then gradually beat in hot mixture. Cover and chill completely.

Stir in the milk and vanilla. Freeze in a 4-quart ice-cream maker according to directions (or two rounds in a small , then scoop into a freezer-safe container to store. Stir in the cherries. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

If you are interested in making a syrup to drizzle on top, here is how I made mine. In a small saucepan, heat the syrup from the sour cherries with 1/2 cup sugar (if your cherries were canned in a light syrup, like mine) until the mixture comes to a boil. Let it cook until it reduces by 25% and begins to thicken. Chill completely, then drizzle on top of your ice cream when serving.

You could definitely adapt this to a variety of berries–I think it would be fantastic with blueberries or strawberries. You could even swirl in a ribbon of jam in place of  the cherries. In fact, I may try that next time!

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Sour Cream Banana Pancakes

I hope you’re enjoying the start of the New Year! I haven’t been blogging long enough to merit a “year in review” post, so instead, I wanted to share one of my favorite weekend breakfasts. This will be a simple and easy post, so you can take your time to welcome in the New Year, and maybe event try this for breakfast today!

These Sour Cream Banana Pancakes are from Ina Garten’s book Barefoot Contessa Family Style. She is great at coming up with new twists on familiar favorites, and these are super simple, but have a lovely tangy flavor from the sour cream that is a fun twist on pancakes. The batter is simple and quick, and not too fussy. It is important not to over-mix the batter, so leaving it a little bit lumpy like you see above is just fine.

The batter also keeps really well in the fridge, and is even better the second day. I love this, as I don’t want to eat a whole recipe in one morning. You can also make extra pancakes and re-heat in a toaster. Just make sure you let them cool completely upside-down before putting in the fridge, as the bananas hold a lot of moisture and can make the pancakes soggy if you put them in plastic before they cool.

There are bananas inside, and bananas on top. That’s a lot of bananas. (I like bananas)

Once you start cooking the pancakes, you just drop the banana bits on top.

Flip them over…

And you’re left with delicious caramelized bananas on the bottom of your pancake. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Top with more bananas and real maple syrup, and you’ve got a great breakfast!

Happy New Year!

Sour Cream Banana Pancakes by Ina Garten 

Serves 4 (3 large pancakes each)

1 1/2 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving

Pure maple syrup

In one bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan to make 3 or 4 pancakes. Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced bananas and maple syrup.

Do you have a favorite weekend breakfast recipe? Share it here!

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Braised Lamb with Curry and Cardamom (Dark Days)

When I get invited to parties by close friends, I am often encouraged to bring a dish or to come early help out with cooking. It’s such a pleasure to have the ability to contribute to the meal, and I’m usually happiest in the kitchen, anyway. When the wife of one of my closest friends asked me if I’d be interested in bringing a lamb dish to his birthday dinner, I was thrilled to help out. I remembered seeing a recipe that looked amazing in my copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table, and decided to give it a go. I was (over)due for a Dark Days meal as well, so made sure to use local produce and lamb from a local Sonoma producer.

The recipe looked really interesting–who would have thought of mint, cardamom and curry in a French recipe?  I did end up making a few changes from the original recipe. I started out by browning the meat before cooking down the onions–the recipe called for adding them to the onions and spices instead. There were 3 lbs of meat, so I just wanted to be sure it got that lovely flavor going from the browning. The key to good browning is to keep the meat from getting too crowded, as you see above. For the 3 lbs of lamb meat, I did four rounds of browning. After each batch, just set it aside to rest. One you’re done, remove the last of the lamb and start cooking the aromatics. I also decided to add a few other local ingredients, as I had some local parsnips and sweet potatoes that needed to be used. So I cut the number of fingerling potatoes in half, added a cubed sweet potato and tossed in a few parsnips as well. They were a great addition, and also helped to stretch the stew for a crowd.

One of the nice parts of starting with the lamb is that you have a dark and flavorful fond–the brown crusty goodness that develops in the bottom of the pan–that creates a lovely depth of flavor in the meal when it breaks down into the liquid. All of the spices, garlic and onions go in, and cook down until the onions soften, about what you see above. Then toss in the seared lamb, potatoes and onions, and enough water to cover, and you’re almost there. When I initially read the recipe, I was surprised to see the addition of honey, apples and figs to a stew like this. I was uncertain how I would like those sweet flavors initially, but then I thought of the age-old tradition of pairing lamb with mint jelly, and figured I’d trust Dorie. I’m so glad I did. The sweet was just right, and really paired well with the gaminess of the lamb.

The diced apples went in along with a couple tablespoons of local honey. The recipe called for dried figs, but I didn’t have access to local dried figs, so I used a few tablespoons of local fig jam I had made earlier this fall. The recipe is pretty simple after that. I started it cooking on my stove, closed up the cast iron pan and swaddled it in kitchen towels, and drove it 45 minutes north of Oakland to my friends’ home, where it finished cooking.

My only problem was that the party–as parties often do–didn’t quite start on time, and we ended up eating about and hour and a half later than planned. I was a bit worried, as the pan stayed simmering on the stove that whole time. Though aesthetically it wasn’t as pretty, since the potatoes and apples broke down into the sauce, the dish still tasted fantastic. This was a discerning crowd (a lot of folks who work in the Napa wine and restaurant industry), and I heard many rave reviews for the stew. We served it over the birthday boy’s legendary polenta, and I saw many folks take seconds. This is my favorite kind of party food–prep and begin cooking well in advance, then it’s waiting for you when you are ready to eat. It’s also wonderful for winter weekends like this one!

Braised Lamb with Cardamom and Curry
Adapted with a few changes from Around My French Table

1 small bunch mint (about 6 sprigs)

About 2 tablespoons olive oil (to brown the meat)

3 pounds boneless lamb leg or shoulder, fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes and patted dry

2 large onions, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

2½ tablespoons curry powder (I used Madras, as Dorie recommended, and it was lovely)

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

4 crushed cardamom pods (optional)

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

3 parsnips, peeled and sliced on a bias

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 2″ squares

5 small potatoes (like fingerlings) cut in half or quarters

1 cup water

2 teaspoons honey (optional)

3 dried figs, sliced (I used my local fig jam, as I didn’t have local dried figs handy)

2 tart-sweet apples (I used pippins)

Preliminaries: Tie the mint stems in a bundle with kitchen twine. Pull off the mint leaves (reserve the stems) and chop the leaves.

Put a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat and pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it’s hot, brown the lamp in 3-4 batches. Remove the lamb to rest, then stir in the onions, garlic, curry, cardamom powder and optional cardamom pods (I ground mine in a mortar and pestle). Heat, stirring, just until the onions are translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the water, toss in the mint bundle, and stir in half of the chopped mint, and, if you’re using them, the honey and figs. Scatter the potatoes, parsnips and apples over the meat, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, put a piece of aluminum foil over the casserole, and cover it with the lid. Braise for 1 hour and 15 to 30 minutes, or until the meat and potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of knife. Check at the one-hour to see if it needs more liquid: ideally, the stew will not be watery at all, but will still have a bit of a thick sauce.

Taste the juice and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle over the remaining chopped mint.

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Cream Cheese + Cookies = Magic

We now interrupt this local food challenge with an word from our sponsor. Cookies.

With the Dark Days Challenge in full swing, I have been working hard to cook local and seasonal meals. However, it is the holiday season, and I hate arriving at a party without a sweet treat to add to the mix. Not to mention the fact that I have to keep up my blogger cred by plying my colleagues with tasty experiments.

And there was this cookie recipe that I’d been eyeing. Super simple. Everyone raves. So I gave it a test run–made one batch of dough, and cooked a couple of cookies to test it out, refrigerating the rest. Wow. Those anonymous internet commenter folks weren’t kidding. This was about 2 weeks ago, and I’ve literally made this recipe or a variation of it at least 5 times, once in a double-batch. It’s that good (and I might have made an impulse purchase at Costco of a 3lb block of cream cheese before I even tried the recipe. But let’s not talk about that).

I am not a “pretty” cookie baker. You wont find royal icing and cookie cutters being used in my kitchen very often. I don’t have the patience for that, and I find that I tend to like the lumpy-bumpy cookies the best, anyway! My favorite cookie is one that is moist and chewy, with a satisfying crunch around the edges. This is my new favorite cookie. To begin, I’m going to send you to Food52, where Merrill Stubbs shares her mom’s recipe for Cream Cheese Cookies. I didn’t do much to the recipe, so I’d recommend starting there. It’s super simple–just 5 ingredients. (Don’t tell my friends at work who think I’m a baking god after tasting these).

I only really changed two minor things in Merrill’s recipe, both of which contributed to the texture in a really positive way. First, I refrigerated the dough prior to baking (I try not to have an entire batch of cookies in my kitchen with no dedicated purpose. These are the kind of cookies where you could eat the entire batch in a day or two with no help. Really). Second, I made the cookies about 50% bigger than the recipe recommends. This combination made the center stay really soft and chewy, and the outside was crunchy, almost like shortbread. I highly recommend that approach, which also leads to a bit longer baking time (more like 16-18 minutes in my oven).

But I can’t just sit here and send you to another person’s recipe. I was inspired to find ways to incorporate the magical ingredient of cream cheese into other types of cookies I love.

I have a secret for you. One of the best parts of these recipes is that the cream cheese replaces the usual addition of egg, so lick the spoon (and the beater, and the spatula, and the bowl…) to your heart’s content–no salmonella!

So here’s the thing. I love ginger cookies. Specifically Heidi Swanson’s Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies. Now that you mention it, I guess they were last year’s cookie obsession. And I did a little mingling. And the magic works! The ginger flavor feels like Christmas to me. The molasses adds a bit of depth and darker color, as does the brown sugar. I tried using whole wheat pastry flour, as Heidi does, and was happy with the result (and felt a bit more virtuous), but if course it will work with regular all-purpose flour. They retain that crispy-chewy combination, and give you another variation on the cream cheese cookie if you want a bit more depth of flavor.

Ginger Cream Cheese Cookies

Makes about 24 small or 16 large cookies

½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tbsp molasses

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 heaping cup whole wheat pastry flour (or you can use all purpose)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tbsp turbinado sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer or hand beaters, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the molasses, salt and ginger, and mix to incorporate. Add in the flour, and mix just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and give it a quick stir with a spoon or spatula to make sure everything is evenly mixed.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each cookie (they will spread a little). Don’t use a silpat for these—they will run into each other—I’d put them directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

After about 10 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the cookies with turbinado (or raw) sugar. This gives them a bit of sparkle and crunch.  Pop them back in, and let them finish the rest of the baking time. Do not over-bake, or the cookies won’t be chewy! Cool slightly on the cookie sheet, and then remove the cookies with a spatula and let them finish cooling on a rack.

If you really like chewy cookies, I recommend chilling the batter before you bake it, and making the cookies a bit bigger than usual. This will make the inside cook less quickly while allowing the outside rim to get crisp, as explained above. Cook more like 16-18 minutes.

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Pumpkin – Apple – Tomato Soup (Dark Days)

Excited to dig into round two of the Dark Days challenge, I again scoured my fridge and pantry for ingredients. I had seen a recipe a few weeks ago for an apple and butternut squash soup on the blog Running with Tweezers, and was intrigued by the combination. I had a 10lb cheese pumpkin from the farmer’s market that had been sitting outside since Halloween, and needed to get used soon. I had also purchased a 20lb box of tart-sweet pippin apples from Mariquita Farm, a lovely organic farm about 85 miles south of me in Watsonville. They have a great program where they offer mixed “Mystery Boxes” for $25, and also offer single-item boxes like apples for very good prices. They drop off once or twice a month at a restaurant near me, and I love being able to decide when I want things and order them, vs. the regular deliveries of a CSA.

I decided to start with cooked pumpkin, as I hate peeling raw squash, and I knew I would need to cook the whole thing anyway. I cut the cheese pumpkin in half, seeded it, and coated the cut sides with a little bit of local olive oil. I put the cut sides down on a baking sheet, and baked at 400° for 2 hours. The inside was soft, and much of the juice had collected in the pan. Then all I had to do was scoop out the interior and discard the peel.

You wont need all of the pumpkin for the soup–I just used three cups. There is no need to puree the pulp for the soup, as you’ll be blending it when it’s done. I love having local pumpkin around for pies and other delicious seasonal desserts, but find that the fresh pumpkin is far too moist to be used directly in those recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Instead, I puree the cooked squash in the food processor, then strain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. Below, you can see the rest of the pumpkin sitting to strain. I let it sit for a while, then lift up the edges of the cloth and wring it out. Typically, the pumpkin reduces by about half with a good squeezing, and then is the right consistency for typical pumpkin recipes.

One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is a set of straining cloths (called “All-Strain cloths”, pictured above) I purchased from the chef Michael Ruhlman. He has a shop on the website Open Sky where he sells kitchen implements that he and local Cleveland craftsman have made. Open Sky is an amazing site where many chefs and other prominent folks sell items they personally use and endorse at a competitive prices. It’s one of those sites where you have to join to see prices and buy, but it’s really worth it–I’ve gotten many things from chefs like Tom Colicchio and Dorie Greenspan. If you are interested, you can follow this link for $10 off your first purchase.  All-Strain cloths are $22 for 3, so only $12 with the discount. They are heavy-duty, and I use them for everything from straining stocks to draining fresh goat cheese. (I do get a little referral bonus if you follow my link to Open Sky and end up purchasing, but I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t really buy a ton of kitchen things from them!)

As I worked to come up with my own recipe variation, I came across these lovely oven-roasted tomatoes in the fridge. I visited Mariquita Farm for a tomato u-pick with my local Slow Food chapter back in September, and roasted about 10 lbs of San Marzano tomatoes in my oven. These are not exactly like sun dried tomatoes–more tender and juicy–but store really well in olive oil in the fridge. I decided they would be a great addition to the flavor profile. You could definitely use olive-oil packed sun dried tomatoes to equal effect.

I rounded it out with more stored onions and garlic, chicken stock that I pressure canned, and some butter and sour cream from the local Straus Creamery, just 60 miles from me in Marin County. I used Bragg’s cider vinegar (though I am making my first round of cider vinegar with apple peels and cores at the moment–more on that soon) to bring up the acidity. I felt like it needed something else, and I’m kind-of in love with smoked paprika right now, so I added some at the end. The 1/2 tsp is not enough to be really strong, but it brightens the flavor and gives a mild smoky aftertaste that I found lovely. You could add regular paprika, or even red pepper flakes as well, though the flavor wouldn’t be quite the same.

I like my soup to be really thick–you can see above the consistency at which I finished the cooking, before I pureed with an immersion blender. The flavors of the tomato, apple and pumpkin really blend well–none is super prominent. The smokiness of the paprika and the tanginess of the sour cream really take this over the top for me!

Pumpkin – Apple – Tomato Soup   (about 4 servings)

1 tbsp butter

1 large onion (chopped)

2 cloves garlic (chopped)

4 small or 3 medium tart apples, diced (I used pippins)

3 cups cooked pumpkin

1/3 cup oven/sun dried tomatoes (in olive oil), plus

4-5 oven/sun dried tomatoes sliced (for garnish)

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 pint chicken stock

1 pint water (or more, to desired consistency)

1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for garnish

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp sea salt (adjust based on other ingredients–my stock was not salted)

pepper to taste

snipped chives or other fresh herbs (for garnish)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (3 quart or more) and add in the onion and sauté until browned and softened. Then add in the garlic and diced apples. Cook until the apples start to soften, then add in the vinegar, stock, equal amount of water, chopped dried tomatoes, and pumpkin puree. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until apples begin to break down and the mixture is at your desired thickness.

Blend with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender or food processor. Blend until totally smooth. Add in sour cream and blend a bit more, then stir in salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.

To garnish, add a spoonful of sour cream, some diced tomato, and fresh chives. Dig in and enjoy!

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