Category Archives: Cooking

Fusion Cheesecake

Last week we took Babydoll to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner in honor of her first A/B Honor roll of the school year. I was unable to attend the Honors ceremony for this nine weeks because of work so I promised her dinner on Friday to celebrate.

It was a decent meal, I ordered the wrong thing because I was trying to prove to Stan that it was possible to have this item on their menu and it be good. It wasn’t…hence the reason why I say I ordered the wrong thing. However, our appetizers were awesome – Babydoll loves calamari and we also ordered the Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes (a real winner there). Babydoll decided on the buttered pasta but was disappointed to get bowtie pasta instead of angel hair, but we sent it back for the right one.

The purpose of this quick blog is to tell you about their cheesecakes. Many years ago (I think this was pre-Babydoll because she wasn’t with us or maybe we had a babysitter.), Stan and I came to Cheesecake Factory for dinner and when it came time for dessert, I looked over the vast selection of cheesecakes and couldn’t find anything that I wanted to order. See, I wanted some cheesecake and I wanted some chocolate cake. When our server came back to the table and asked if we had made our choice, I asked her if there was anything in the restaurant that would satisfy my craving. I wanted chocolate cake and cheesecake at the same time. They had nothing. Sad smile I left the restaurant that night without any dessert for the first time since I had begun going there (I first had it when I went to DC for college, a long time ago).

On the drive home that night, I sat in the car and devised how to get my chocolate cake and cheesecake at the same time. I discussed it with Stan and tried it out the next weekend. It worked! I served it to my girlfriends at my dinner party that December and it was a huge hit. My first cake was a vanilla bean cheesecake with a chocolate, almond cake crust. My “fusion cheesecakes” were born that holiday season out of a need that I couldn’t find at the Cheesecake Factory.

In subsequent years, I have made many versions of this fusion cheesecake – lemon, strawberry, chocolate, plain vanilla, red velvet and whatever anyone request. So imagine my surprise, last week when I look at the cheesecake menu and I see not one, but about a half dozen cheesecakes that now have some type of cake layer in them!!!!! We haven’t been to the Cheesecake Factory in a couple of years, because 1) the wait is always ridiculous and 2) I’ve learned to make such an awesome cheesecake I don’t feel the need to go there for dessert. The one thing that is on their menu that has me coming back again and again is their Crusted Chicken Romano – and you have to get it with a white sauce (Alfredo) and not the red. That is something I haven’t been able to duplicate yet (and to think that I didn’t order it this time because I was wanted to prove a point…God what a mistake).

Back to my angst….should I be upset that what used to be one of my signature desserts is now being served at the Cheesecake Factory? The process of how it’s put together differs, but should I feel like I’ve been ripped off? Mind you, they’ve probably never heard of me and my fusion cheesecakes, but I don’t have the luxury of saying that it was mine anymore. If I told you I came up with this years before them would you believe me? It made me a little sad….

But I ordered the 30th Anniversary cheesecake because it had the cheesecake and chocolate cake combination that I wanted all those years ago that they didn’t have. I took it home and looked at it for 20 minutes (the next day, I was too tired to eat it that night and it was really late. I did mention the wait at that place is ridiculous) then I finally ate it. It was really good.

Have you been to the Cheesecake Factory and had any of the cheesecakes with the cake inside?

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HEY…as an afterthought I remember when I came up with my fusion cheesecake idea, I was pregnant with Babydoll. That’s where the crazy craving came from. MY PREGNANCY!!!

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Homemade Extracts

After much talk and procrastination, I decided to bite the bullet and make my own vanilla extract. I bake something every weekend and sometimes again on Mondays; so you can imagine that I go through a lot of vanilla. Recently I noticed that I was buying vanilla extract every week. Last year I came across an article online that explained how to make vanilla and give it as gifts to your friends. My friends rely on me to do the baking and when they do bake it usually doesn’t require them to use pure vanilla extract. But I was very happy to see that making homemade vanilla extract was quite simple. You needed to get some inexpensive vodka and some vanilla beans.

About a month ago, I started putting vodka and vanilla beans on my grocery list. Each week I wouldn’t buy them because I knew I needed a fair amount of vanilla beans (at least 5 for a small amount) and I couldn’t find more than three for around $7-$9. One day, while looking online for the recipe to get exact ingredients measurements, I came across the website recommended to purchase vanilla beans. I went to www.beanilla.com and ordered the Madagascar grade B vanilla beans. The grade B beans are recommended to use to make vanilla extract. I bought 10 beans for $7.99. I also ordered some vanilla paste. While out grocery shopping, I bought a bottle of Dark Eyes vodka (my husband called it gut rot); I need an inexpensive vodka and it was on sale. Meijer had these beautiful bottles on clearance and I bought a blue one.

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I had a crazy busy day on Saturday, but I had my Sunday mapped out…I was going to make my vanilla extract, make the praline sweet potato pie, a mini sweet potato cheesecake, make red pepper jelly (to go with the jalapeno poppers we were having with the football food dinner – shrimp po boys and homemade onion rings) and try to rest because after a week of doctoring, my babydoll had passed on her light cold.

I know, I know if I’m sick what would make me want to cook, right? Well, that’s my thing, I get sick I want to eat and cook. So I get in the kitchen, wash my hands so much they start to chaff and refuse to open my mouth for anything. I usually end up with some pretty good stuff. I’ll tell you more about the other recipes a little later.

Back to the vanilla extract. I started by slicing my vanilla beans. Not completely through and not from end-to-end. I started about ½” from the end and cut to about 1” from the other end. I decided to slice open 5 of them to see where that would put me with my 1 cup of vodka in my bottle.

Here’s my finger tips covered in little vanilla bean seeds after cutting them.

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I dropped them in and added 1 cup of vodka.

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I still had plenty of room left in the bottle so I added the other 5 beans. Then another cup of vodka.

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I still had room in the bottle and about 1 ½ cups of vodka left in the bottle. I had no more beans, but did I want to leave that vodka in the bottle? We weren’t going to drink it – after all my husband called it gut rot and we had the good stuff in the fridge. So I started pouring into the bottle. I chickened out about ½ cup in. I didn’t want to mess up my first foray into extract making so I stopped. I poured the vodka back into its bottle to be used when my extract starts to run low.

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I stopped up the bottle and gave it a little (okay a vigorous) shake and placed it on the shelf in my pantry. I’m not showing you a picture of my pantry because it is a fright. I plan to change out the wire shelves to actual wood shelves soon and add baskets and all kinds of nifty storage stuff and lights. But I haven’t done that yet therefore you do not get to see my dirty little secret.

 

I will keep you informed of my extract progress however. I am to give the bottle a shake once a week for the next eight weeks and then it will be ready for use. I’m so excited and proud of myself. I’m thinking lemon and orange extract are next on my list of homemade extracts. What do you think?

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Carrot Cake 2.0

This past weekend was the Babydolls birthday and we did a slumber party. It was six girls (five guest plus the guest of honor) and a really late night. This had to be the easiest party ever!!! The menu was very basic (personal pizzas, sour cream & cheddar chips, fruit – they had cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon & mango and a Jell-O poke cake for dessert) and it was such a relief.

Having said that, I didn’t do a family dessert until Monday. I was going through some magazines last week and saw a comparison of carrot cakes (a healthy vs. traditional version) that had me intrigued. It also made me want to have carrot cake for dessert really soon.

The healthy version of the carrot cake cut the sugar and oil in half and whole wheat flour was used along with all-purpose flour. For me, anytime you tell me you want to cut out the fat in a cake, you kind-of lose me. I never, ever, ever want a cake to be dry and when you reduce fat you run the chance of having a dry cake (and that was mentioned as one of the comments for that recipe.) I still wanted to try a healthier recipe so I set around and thought. I decided upon applesauce as that is something that is used often in recipes as a fat substitute. Plus the applesauce might also add some flavor to the cake. I also did a mixture of all-purpose flour and cake flour instead of using only all-purpose flour. I felt this would help to make for a lighter cake. I shifted the flours and spices twice before making the cake. My goal the entire time was to have a light and flavorful cake.

For the icing, I decided to cut the cream cheese and powdered sugar in half and added a 8 oz. jar of marshmallow fluff. It remained light and still really good.

I have to say that the end result was very tasty. It was not as moist as my original recipe but not at all what I would consider dry.

If you want to have a good carrot cake that does not have much fat and sugar as the traditional recipe, give this one a try.

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Carrot Cake

4 eggs

1 ½ cup sugar

3/4 cup oil

½ cup applesauce

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cups cake flour

1 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. of baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

3 cups shredded carrots

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

This cake can be made in a large mixing bowl. Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, set aside. Lightly beat eggs. Add sugar and oil. Add applesauce and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture. Add carrots, raisins and walnuts. Pour into 13×9 prepared pan. Bake at 350o for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool completely before you frost.

Icing

¼ cup butter, softened

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 8 oz. container marshmallow fluff

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste because wanted to see some of the vanilla bean seeds.  You can’t see them with this picture because I really need to get a AF – auto focusing micro lens or is that macro lens.)

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Cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the marshmallow fluff and beat until well combined.  Slowly add the powdered sugar a little at a time.  Add the vanilla lastly.  Smear all over your carrot cake once it has cooled.

I really wanted to take a better picture, but my time was running out and I really wanted to get you guys a picture of the cake cut.  It was really, really good.

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Menu 5/11/13

This week we are having (or had)…

Sunday: It was Mother’s Day…I wasn’t cooking

Monday: Soup & Sandwich day!!! – Cheeseburger soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Tuesday: Smoked Sausage Mac & Cheese with salads (fruit for Babydoll and lettuce for us)

Wednesday: Wings & Waffles (Sweet & Salty Chicken Wings & Sweet Potato Waffles)

Thursday: Breakfast Sausage Subs, Onion Straws, & Veggies

Friday: It’s a work Friday, everyman for himself

Saturday: We had playoff tickets…we ate bar food Smile

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Bahn Mi please

I’ll admit that I love to cook…I have a small catering company that I’d love to have more clients for, but am happy to have those I do have. Having said this, you would think that I would constantly be posting about different things that I have cooked. That is not the case. Usually bloggers post of something they love that they make on regular basis or when they have made something special. The things that I make on a regular basis comes so second nature to me that I rarely think to photo document the making. The things that are “special” are usually something that comes about when I’ve got an idea in my head and I’m going to experiment. The problem with experimenting is that I never know if it will be a success or a failure (like the pumpernickel bread attempts). So when I make an “experiment” and it is successful, I can’t show you the process; because I was unsure of the outcome.

In the future, I will make an effort to at least get a final photo of the creation to show you when I post about it.

Having said this, I will tell you about something that I made yesterday. On Mondays we always have some form or soup and sandwich. This was something the Babydoll requested when I decided to make a weekly menu. I am one that does not like to have the same thing to eat weekly so I try my best to switch it up with something different for at least two months before I do a repeat.

This week I decided to make Egg Drop Soup. Now what type of sandwich do you have to accompany that? I could only think of the Banh Mi sandwiches. However, I did not have the time or pork to make the sandwich traditional pork banh mi. I did have some left-over roasted chicken and pork from Sundays dinner (we had roasted chicken and sausages). I goggled chicken banh mi sandwiches and found one on the food network website. I decided not to pickled my julienned carrots and forgo the cilantro and instead of syrrachi sauce for the meat, I used red chili paste. So what did I end up with you ask?

I took the ginger slices and garlic cloves from my soup broth and placed them in a bowl that had the chicken and sausages that I had chopped. I covered the meat in warm water and then I added 2 tbsp. of soy sauce. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap to steep while I went to pick up Babydoll from her jewelry making class. When I returned home I drained the meat and then placed about 1/3 cup or mayonnaise into the bowl with 3 tbsp. of hot chili paste. I tossed the meat in this mixture and set it aside until it was time to make the sandwiches. I thinly sliced the cucumber into long strips. To assemble the sandwiches I spread a layer of mayonnaise on the French bread and then put a heaping helping of the meat mixture atop. I placed the sandwich on aluminum foil and placed it in a 350o oven for about 15 minutes (I was looking for the edges to get slightly golden). I then removed it from the oven and added the carrots and cucumber to the top. Folded it over and I was ready to S-N-A-P. Boy was it a good sandwich.Smile 

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It was so good that I had it again for lunch today. It was a hit and will be revisited again by the Cork household. It had heat from the chili paste but was cooled by the cucumber and carrots. The carrots and cucumber also provided a little crunch along with the crustiness of French bread.  Babydoll had a ham and cheese sub (it reminded her of a Subway toasted ham and cheese and she was very happy) and Stan had his banh mi (which he had the nerve to reply was a little spicy…this from the man that wants jalapeno’s as a side on everything). It was a good soup and sandwich day.

Now…as the weather is getting warmer I am now on the hunt for some soups that are suitable to spring and summer.  I know that there are cool soups that people eat, but in my mind I feel that soup should be something that is warm.  If someone can convince me that a cool soup is worth it; I will give it a try and let you know my thoughts.  Keep in mind, Babydoll doesn’t eat much tomato based soups (it causes reflux issues).  Thanks in advance for your help and advice.

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No more deviations…I think.

I have been making so many off the wall things lately that I’m feeling like I want to just have one of my tried and trues.  I have been working really hard to successfully make Pumpernickel Bread, but it keeps turning out badly.  I have taken some of my favorite desserts and added something a little different to them hoping that they will be a new great invention – making cheesecake with snickerdoodle crust and have ricotta cheese instead of all cream cheese; chocolate brownies with peanut butter swirl and toffee bits top; butternut squash & chicken soup with acini di pepe; and so on.  Most of the “deviations” have been pretty good or at least not complete throw away (with the exception of the pumpernickel bread), but I feel like my family would be so happy if I just made something the way that it is supposed to be – no deviations please.

This week I announced to my Babydoll that I was just going to make a plain cake.  She said, “what kind”. I replied, “a lemon pound cake, maybe”.  She said, “a plain cake would be vanilla”.  That is true, but you always want something to make it a little fresh and the lemon would give it that kick of freshness. 

The thing is, as I was sitting down to right out my grocery list (I also have to make a chocolate cake for a customer for Saturday), this great idea came to mind: a swirl cake.  Then my mind went even farther…an orange and vanilla swirl cake.   My version of a creamsicle cake.  Yeah, Yeah I’ve seen the recipes for a creamsicle cake (I had to see if someone else had done this) and the recipes out there are not at all what I have in mind. 

My only fear is that my family will kill me if I make something that is horrible.  I don’t think I will have time to make a backup dessert (sometimes I have cookies on hand in case things go wrong), with me having to make a dessert for a customer, and a model home auction this weekend, and a big girl bed delivery for my Babydoll. 

I also plan on taking a pumpernickel break this week and making a batch of homemade rolls.  These we will have with our soup of the week (I’m thinking Creamy Wild Rice & Chicken) and the extra rolls will go in the freezer to be pulled out whenever we want rolls with dinner.  I think if the cake goes horribly wrong, I will have my awesome rolls as a conciliation.

Note:  When I began this post I had not made a decision about which cake I was going to make – strawberry swirl or orange creamsicle.  I chose the orange and it was a hit.  The rolls and the cake were AWESOME.  I will post about the cake later this week.

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Epic fail

So often when bloggers post of something they have made (be it something cooked or crafted) we readers get to see the successful finished product.  We may hear about the failed attempts but ultimately we see a successful finished product.

Well today I am going to let you guys see my failure.  I will admit the actual finished product does not have pictures, because I was so disgusted that I threw it away without taking the last shot. 

What did I fail at you are wondering?  Remember my talk of the Pumpernickel Raisin bread that I promised a post on the other day?  There’s my failure. Sad smile

The soup was a success and I will tell you about that…but we ended up having peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread instead of wonderful brown bread slathered in butter.  So I will tell you the tale of the pumpernickel failure.

My love of this particular bread came from a recent trip to Wildfire Restaurant in Chicago when we were there for Spring Break a couple weeks ago.  This wasn’t my first time eating at this restaurant (the salmon is awesome), but this time the bread was so delicious that I decided it was something that I had to have at home.  I have a fondness for rye and pumpernickel bread anyway, so why not make it at home.  I came home and began enthusiastically researching the web and cook books for the perfect recipe.  I learned that pumpernickel is rye bread that has the addition of molasses and coffee.  I finally found two recipes that seemed promising. 

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Each had some things that the other missed so why not combine the best of each and come up with my own recipe for perfection?  Below is a shot of the ingredients that participated in this fail.

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I mixed my yeast with sugar and warm water and let proof for 10 minutes. 

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While this was proofing I combined the molasses, vinegar, another 2 cups of water, butter and unsweetened cocoa powder and let them warm on low until the butter melted.

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I also combined the rye and bread flour together whisking to add more air (hoping to keep my bread as light as possible).  I combined all the ingredients with the exception of the raisins and kneaded it for 8 mins. (this is my standard kneading time when making bread.  I watch TV or talk to whomever I’m on the phone with until the timer goes off, it’s very therapeutic).  I then covered it with plastic wrap and let it proof.

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After about 1 1/2 hours I punched it down and let it rise again for 45 minutes. 

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After that time I punched down again and kneaded in my raisins for a few minutes.  I added a half cup total; 1/4 cup at a time.

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I divided the dough into two halves to round loaves. 

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After I looked at the size of my loaves I decided to make four instead of two. 

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I let them rise again while I went to get the Babydoll from school. 

This is where I noticed things were going horribly wrong and all of the jolly picture taking stopped.  One of my mistakes was placing plastic wrap over the loaves to let them rise.  This did not give them room to rise up and so they ended up rising out, becoming the size of10” plates.  Sad smile  But I pressed on because I just knew they would be awesome tasting.  I have made many things that didn’t look too great but boy did they make up for it in flavor. 

That was not the case on this day.  After baking for 30 minutes at 375; I took them out and slathered the tops with butter.  I should have known that something was wrong when they did not have the rich dark color of the bread at Wildfire.  But again I pressed on…I sliced it up and slathered on more butter and took a bite.  It was not the same bread that I had at Wildfire.  It was not like any pumpernickel that I have ever had.  It was horrible.  The taste of the coffee (I am not a coffee drinker ever.) was so strong it seemed to take over.  I didn’t have the sweet yeasty taste of fresh bread that I normally have with my bread.  It was not good at all.  The only good thing about it was the areas around the raisins.  They made the bread a little better…but only if a raisin was around.

So what have I learned from this failure?  The first big thing is to omit the coffee.  The flavor of the coffee was way too over-powering in the bread and I never noticed that taste in all of the pumpernickel that I have eaten…so NO COFFEE.  There also seemed to be a sweetness to the bread that I did not notice with this bread.  Did this come from the molasses or the chocolate?  I’m not sure but I am willing to take any and all thoughts on this.  Also the color on this bread was not the rich dark brown color that you see with pumpernickel.  My bread was more of a light mocha color…I need black coffee color.  Again is this due to the molasses or the chocolate?  I am still investing this as well.  Finally, I need to pay better attention when I’m taking pictures.  It may have been due to me trying to take shots while working with bread ingredients, but some of these shots are not to clearly focused.

Anyway…I’m still researching for the right recipe and I will probably make another attempt on this upcoming Monday.  Wish me luck and if you have ANY suggestions do not hesitate to pass them along.  Are there any “fails” that you would like to share?

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