Author Archives: Nicole

Cheesecake, as promised

I promised that with Francesca’s Prosciutto and Fennel Salad and the Asparagus Baked Pasta that you had a dinner party.  Well, almost. In my humble opinion, no dinner party is complete without dessert. Francesca would say fruit, but I think dessert. I promised a cheesecake and so you will have one. This is one has two layers and isn’t in need of anything else but if you like, you can serve it with some macerated strawberries or the Melba Sauce shown in the photo. (Francesca will follow this post with a recipe for the Melba Sauce)   You do need to bake this the night before you want to serve it.

I wouldn’t be me without an opinion or two.  Stop laughing, Francesca!  Springform pans: I don’t like them coated with non-stick finish, I don’t like dark ones, and I especially I don’t like the ones with the elevated bottom and big one inch foot on the outside as you can’t put them on a cake stand and they take up a lot of room in the fridge.  I like them shiny, with a bumpy bottom that sits in a groove inside the bottom of the ring.  Treat them right by washing gently so as not to bend them and drying them right away and reassembling and they will last a long time.  If you let them air dry, they will pit and rust.

Ingredients – Graham Cracker Crust:

1 & 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
6 TBS butter, melted

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and toss until thoroughly moistened. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 10″ springform pan with a spatula.  Set aside.

Ingredients – Cheesecake:

(4) 8 oz Packages of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature
1 & 1/3 cups granulated sugar
(6) large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract

Ingredients – Topping:

1 pint of sour cream
6 TBS granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set rack in just below the middle of the oven.

Place the first package of cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream on low speed.  Add remaining packages of cream cheese, one at a time, creaming until soft.  Turn the mixer up slightly and slowly add the sugar. Beat until the sugar is dissolved (Note: don’t beat at too high a speed.  Incorporating air will cause your cheesecake to fall and crack later on.) Scrape down the bowl as you need to.

Turn the mixer up to about medium and beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl in between.  Pour in the almond extract and give it one last mix.

Pour the cheesecake mix into the 10″ springform pan with the graham cracker crust. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Cheesecake should be set with a slightly jiggly center. Remove from oven and maintain oven temperature.

In a small bowl mix the topping. Wisk until sugar is dissolved.  Pour over cheesecake and bake in oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Allow to cook until the pan can be handled (it will still be warm).  Cover with an inverted 12 inch dinner plate or a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The cheesecake will set up in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve it, run a thin knife around the perimeter of the pan and release the sides.  When serving, cut two slices the first time and serve pull one out with a pie server or spatula.  You should end up with a good result.

Not my Momma's Mac & Cheese

Francesca’s first recipe, Asparagus Baked Pasta, is a fabulous dish for a dinner party —special enough to stand on its own as an entrée or to serve as the pasta course of a multi course dinner. It has the added bonus of being able to be assembled ahead of time and popped in to bake as you are pouring the first round of drinks. Add her second recipe, the Prosciutto and Fennel Salad, and you have the whole dinner party. I will post an easy cheesecake recipe to finish off the night.

Let’s face it though…there are nights when all you want to do is crawl into your fuzzy sweater and, yes I’ll admit it, your pajama bottoms and take comfort in a bowl of something delish from your childhood. Something. Something familiar. Something like … Mac and Cheese. Every celebrity chef seems to have a Mac and Cheese recipe. Many are quite upscale and require running around to different stores to find all of the ingredients. There is nothing wrong with that, it just isn’t suited to fuzzy sweaters and pajamas.

This recipe, tried and true, came to me from my friend’s mother, Grandma Barbara, who makes tray upon tray of it and then spends the better part of a day running around town to deliver it to her family, her kids, and sometimes her kid’s very lucky friend – me! The success of this recipe lies in salt, deli cheese and Wondra.

So, salt. You must salt the macaroni water! Salt the water once it comes to a boil, give it a stir and taste it. It should be salty like sea water. If it isn’t, add some more. This is your only chance to impart some flavor into the macaroni itself. A quick digression about the macaroni – to have the cheese sauce adhere to the macaroni, you want to use a ribbed pasta. At the very least use a ribbed elbow. I use cellentani, which is a ribbed, double elbow macaroni that is twisted. It makes for a heartier dish.

Deli cheese. Who’d-a-thunk? Seriously, this is the key to the whole dish. Plain old American deli cheese. Now I am a Land o’ Lakes White America, sliced extra thin cheese girl for everything. Everything except this Mac and Cheese. Land o’ Lakes cheese is made with oil so if you use it in this recipe, the oil and the milk solids separate during baking and you get an oily puddle around the edge. Tastes great but looks less than appealing. I have found that Boar’s Head White American, sliced thickly – like an eight of an inch or so works the best. Yellow or white is up to you. Take the extra thick slices and cut them into strips about a centimeter in width and then cut across the strips to create cubes.

Last, but not least, Wondra. Wondra might well be one of the greatest inventions of modern cookery. Ok, not really one of the greatest, but really, really good. The fine nature of the flour combined with the shaker top make it super easy to gradually add flour to the milk and butter with one hand, and whisk like a madman with the other. Guaranteeing a super smooth white sauce. I can’t give you an exact measurement for the flour. You just shake it in while the milk boils, and stir and eventually you get a thick white sauce (that you need to salt!). I can usually get 3-4 Macs and Cheese from a canister.

In the time it takes to bring the water to a boil, salt it, and cook the macaroni, you can cube and grate the cheeses and make the white sauce. It is ready to throw in the over in under a half an hour OR you can put it in baking dishes and cover with foil and keep in the fridge for a couple of days, OR you can wrap with plastic wrap and foil and freeze to bake later. Just remember to take the plastic wrap off before you bake it.

So onto the good stuff …

Grandma Barbara’s Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

Salt
1 pound of macaroni – elbows, cellentani or other pasta – cooked tender (not al dente)
1 quart of whole milk
1 stick of butter, cut up
Wondra flour (see note above)
1 ¼ pounds of deli American cheese, sliced thick and cut into cubes
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 13 x 9” baking dish or multiple smaller dishes.

Bring the macaroni to a boil in salted water and cook past al dente until the macaroni is soft.

In the meantime, bring the milk and butter to a boil over medium heat. While whisking, shake in Wondra and cook until the sauce thickens up. This will take about 10 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, turn off the heat and whisk in some more milk. Add salt to taste.

Drain the macaroni and shake out excess water. Put in a large bowl and toss with the American cheese cubes. Pour the white sauce over the cheese and macaroni and toss well. Turn out into the baking dish(es). Cover the top of the casserole with the grated cheddar.

Bake at 375 F for 30-45 minutes until the top is a little crusty and the inside is bubbly and hot.

If you are baking a frozen casserole, it will take longer – closer to 45-60 minutes. Just watch it carefully.