Everyday Cooking

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake Pops-A Daring Bakers Challenge

I was still feeling a bit dejected from stuffing up last month's Daring Baker challenge when I saw Elle and Deborah's April dare. It promisingly looked delicious and fun- Cheesecake Pops. I've never had these before, let alone attempted making them.
The pops looked like the perfect treat to take to our favourite twins' fourth birthday party. The do was to be held over the ANZAC long-weekend which means I get an extra day of playing around lest things don't work out the first time around. I need not have worried. These were actually quite easy to make.

Basically, one makes a baked cheesecake, let this firm up, scoop balls out of the cake, freeze the pops and then dip them in chocolate and then decorate. See, doesn't that sound easy? I made less than the specified quantity in the original recipe but this recipe seems quite amenable to adjustments. I wasn't very strict with the measurements and ratios but the cheesecake turned out beautifully light (for a cheesecake anyway. None of that dense texture which I don't particulary enjoy) and yet firm. Instead of using 5 tubs of cream cheese, I only used 3. I used 3 eggs (instead of 5), 1 egg yolk (instead of 2) and 1 cup of sugar (instead of 2). These quantities produced 25 pops.

Oh and I baked the cheesecake for 70minutes, instead of the recommended 35-40mins. I used a spring-form tin, wrapped in three layers of foil to avoid water getting in. I have to say, this is the very first successful cheesecake I have made, no cracks- the top was as smooth as a bub's bottom.

The recipe also calls for scooping out balls of cheesecake but I decided to slice up the cake into cubes. Less wasteage and mess that way, I reckon. The cheesecake morsels were coated in white and dark chocolate from either end of the luxury spectrum. The 250g of white chocolate was a cheap and cheerful, store home-brand. The dark chocolate was Couverture. They were what I had in the cupboard, not really because there was some well-thought out reasoning behind the choices. Curiously, both kinds of chocolate turned out very well after melting them with a tablespoon of shortening. They formed sweet, crunchy shells over the frozen cheesecake cubes.

As for decorating, the pops, no sophisticated bling on mine. Just a sprinkling of colours from rainbow choc chips, butterfly shapes and hundreds-and-thousands.

The pops were a hit at the party! It wasn't a particularly warm day and they held up well on the wooden craft sticks I used. These just make such cute nibbles for the little ones but the taste was much appreciated by the grown-ups. Thanks for a fun challenge Elle and Deborah.

Here is the original recipe from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mixed Vegetable Bhaji

Onion Bhajis are quite popular as a snack or appetiser item in the UK. Like most Indian dishes that could be found in the west, I'm not really sure about the authenticity of the recipes used but they taste great :-)
I am taking more liberty with the bhaji, adding more vegetables in the mix to make these crisp, mildly-spiced fritters. I hope my Indian friends won't mind...
These are best made with chickpea flour (gram flour, chana besan). I suppose plain flour could be substituted but one would miss out on the sublte, nutty, chick pea flavour.

Mixed Vegetable Bhaji

2 cups chickpea flour
1 cup thinly sliced brown onion
1 cup julienned sweet potato
1/2 cup julienned zucchini
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
cold water
oil for frying

1 tsp mint leaves, chopped finely
1/2 cup natural yogurt

In a bowl, mix together the flour and spices. Add the vegetables and mix well. If the batter is too dry, add some cold water, a tablespoon at a time. You do not want a runny batter, it should be thick enough to make patties out of.
Season with salt. Take a tablespoon of the batter at a time, form into balls and flatten with your palms to form patties.

Heat up the oil and deep-fry the patties until crisp. Let the fritters sit on paper towels prior to serving.

In a small bowl, pour the mint leaves into the yogurt and stir. Serve the bhajis with this dip.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blue-Eye Cod with Cherry Tomato Stew

Fish. I just don't cook it enough. I love it but my creativity with fish usually stops at baked salmon. Having found a fish I love will definitely change this, though. Blue-eye cod (Trevalla) is firm, delicately-flavoured and just lends itself to so many ways of preparing.

Blue-eyes are huge for eating fish. The four cutlets I picked up from the fish monger weighed almost 1.6kilos. That's 400g of succulent fish meat in the photo above. I'd normally stay away from large fish as I haven't really got the knack for preparing them. Tuna and swordfish seem to always turn out too dry, obviously from overcooking. However, Blue eye was easy to get perfectly crisp on the outside yet moist and tender on the inside.

I was going to prepare this simply fried with a bit of tartare sauce on the side but the husband came home with an interesting loot after a fishing trip on the river. No, he didn't manage to bag a decent catch (the bream were too small and had to be tossed back in) but his fishing buddies sent him home with a bucket of beautiful, juicy cherry tomatoes and a few fresh bay leaves from their garden. These went nicely into a ratatouille-style vegetable stew that beautifully-complemented the fish.

Blue-Eye Cod with Cherry Tomato Stew
serves four

olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 medium brown onion, sliced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c very ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped finely
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
3 bay leaves, torn
1 yellow capsicum, sliced thinly
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 x 400g Blue-eye cutlets
1/2 Tbsp tumeric (optional)
1/2 c flour
salt and pepper

To prepare the vegetables, heat up the olive oil in the pan and toss in the fennel and onions.
Cook until soft. Add the garlic, chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, sugar. Mix around until the tomatoes are soft. Throw in the bay leaf and cover with the heat on low. Simmer until the sauce has thickened up.
In the last few minutes of cooking, add the capsicum and cherry tomatoes. Mix around until thoroughly heated up. Do not let the tomatoes get overcooked. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

In the meantime, lightly dredge the fish cutlets in a mix of flour, tumeric (if using), salt and pepper. Fry on both sides until golden and the outsides are crisp.

Serve with the tomatoes and capsicum stew. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Lamb Shank and Lentil Stew

Old friends from Zurich were on a flying visit to Sydney last week and we were lucky enough that they had time to pop over for dinner. Aaahh, it was good to reminisce.
Over some lovely wine and soft candle light, we talked about cushy jobs and corporate jollies, drinking Weissbier and getting gas, ski trips and some cranky swish Swiss, dwarves (don't ask!) and weddings. Which are all in the past.

As if on cue, one of the four-year olds in the next room screams which brought all three sets of parents running. Nothing serious, it was just your run-of-the mill pre-schooler fight on whose turn it was with the Hula hoop/Charlie and Lola book/kitchen knife. And just like that, we were jolted back to the present. Beer-brain has been replaced by nappy-brain. Mortgages, jobs, kiddy tantrums, petrol prices....
Yet, everyone is happy and content. Which is what counts.

When I found out that my friends were visiting, I got concious of the fact that I am several kilos heavier than when they saw me last. The vain person in me wanted to make it out as though it was the new look I was going for- you know, the curvy Nigella Lawson-sort of domestic goddess...'Dahhling, let me pop one more of those gorgeous deep-fried chocolate eclairs in my mouth'
Seriously, I just wanted to give my friends a taste of a flavourful, rustic, home-cooked meal that they must be missing while travelling. Nigella's creations, though mostly 'celery-challenged' (as one journalist puts it), are downright comforting and would fit the bill nicely.
One of the things I made for the night was adapted from Nigella Lawson's Aromatic Lamb-Shank Stew recipe.
I thought the use of soy sauce in a (non-Asian) stew was a bit dubious but I loved the resulting flavour. I also had some Chermoula on hand and adding it packed a bit more complex punch.

Lamb Shank and Lentil Stew

olive oil
6 pcs lamb shanks
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1tsp minced garlic
1tsp minced ginger
1Tbsp Turmeric
1 Tbsp chermoula
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp Marsala wine
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 c lentils (I used split mung bean)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat up some olive oil in a dutch oven/cocotte and brown the lamb shanks. Take the lamb shanks out and drain on absorbent paper.
In the same oil, cook the onion and garlic until soft. Then add the ginger, tumeric, chermoula and cinnamon. Stir around for a minute or so but do not let the spices burn. Add the Marsala and soy sauce and stir until it starts bubbling up. Stir in the honey.
Put the lamb shanks back in the pot and then cover in cold water (around 4 cups).
Let it get to boil and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer covered for approx 1 hour, or until the meat is tender.
Add the lentils and simmer uncovered for a further 20mins. Season with salt and pepper.

*I like to cook this stew in advance and then skim off the fat after it has been sitting in the fridge overnight. The flavours develop better upon re-heating.

** I served this with spinach rice. I sauteed the spinach in butter and cardamom and mixed in some cooked rice then topped with almond slivers. Next time, I will go back to serving this with polenta. I prefer something a bit 'more bland' as a backdrop for the various flavours.