26 September 2010

Austrian Cream Cheese Bars


Thinking of desserts with universal appeal, Cheesecake hovers right at the top of the list.  Almost everyone I know likes cheesecake in one form or another.

Cheesecake also rates high on the list of desserts I like to make. While cheesecake recipes often seem quite long and potentially complicated, in reality a good cheesecake is fairly simple to make if you have a good recipe and plenty of time for baking, chilling and adding the finishing touches.  Sine most cheesecakes are quite large and are truly crowd pleasers the time invested usually seems worth it to me.

There are times, however, when making a cheesecake, no matter how perfectly it may please, just isn’t an option.  There are times when a full blown cheesecake is just too much dessert and takes too much time to prepare.  That’s when Austrian Cheesecake Bars shine.

When  I need a quick fix of delicious cheesecake flavor without the huge cheesecake presentation these bars are a great compromise.  They are packed with all of the delicious elements of cheesecake appeal: crumb crust, creamy chocolate chip studded cheese filling, a luscious layer of chocolate on top and a scattering of roasted walnuts, not to mention a pinch of cinnamon just to keep things interesting.   All of that goodness is packed into a bar that goes together fairly quickly, with a minimum of ingredients. It is easily transported as well.

The origins of the recipe are a bit fuzzy.  It was clipped from a newspaper many years ago and has been copied and recopied since then. The bars themselves are a family favorite and a recipe that I have turned to again and again over the years. They never fail to earn compliments and are something I truly enjoy eating myself as well as sharing with others.


Austrian Cream Cheese Bars

1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (divided use)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips (divided use)
½ to ¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1½ cups flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. Beat at medium speed about 2 minutes or until crumbly and well blended.  Press mixture into an ungreased 13x9-inch pan.  Bake for 12 minutes; remove from oven.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and eggs at medium speed until smooth, approximately 2 minutes.  Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.

Pour the cream cheese mixture over the partially baked crust.  Bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until topping is almost set.

Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle the remaining cup of chocolate chips over top.  Return to oven for 1 minute to melt chips.

Remove from oven. Gently spread melted chips over top.  Sprinkle with nuts, lightly pressing them into the chocolate.

Refrigerate 1 hour.  Cut into bars.  Store in the refrigerator.  Makes 36 bars.

Note: Watch your time and be sure to cut into bars as directed, before cooling completely.  The crust becomes quite firm and is difficult to cut through when fully chilled.

Serve and enjoy!

16 September 2010

Warm Zucchini Salad


I’m late. I know. Fall is almost here and I am just now able to prepare this wonderful recipe for garden fresh summer squash.

The thing is, my summer squash have only been producing well in the last week or two. Finally I have a number of tender yellow summer squash and green zucchini squash picked from my own garden and gathered on my kitchen counter as well as an overlooked monster zucchini or two. I waited so long for them that I don't want to let any go to waste.

To use some of the squash I have been looking forward to for so long I tried a simple but satisfying new recipe that I pulled from a magazine last summer. Like Wilted Arugula this is another uncharacteristically easy recipe from “Martha Stewart Living." I have really grown to enjoy looking over the recipe card insert in each month’s issue for fresh and simple ideas on how to keep things interesting around my family’s weeknight table.

This recipe uses zucchini, yellow summer squash or both, thinly sliced. Add a little garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and, in minutes, you have a pretty side dish with a lovely splash of Mediterranean flavor ready to brighten up the dinner plate.

I find my Zyliss mandoline comes in very handy when preparing this dish. It slices vegetables thinly, evenly and quickly. I wish I had given in and bought one of these sooner. Still any way you slice it this zucchini recipe will be great.

Warm Summer Squash Salad
from the September 2009 issue of "Martha Stewart Living"

1 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced thin
1 pound zucchini and/or yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic. Saute for approximately one minute.

Add the sliced squash and continue to saute until just wilted, approximately 2 minutes.

Add the vinegar to the skillet, stirring while it evaporates slightly. Stir in the oregano.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

10 September 2010

Farmer’s Market Quail Egg Bruschetta


School is back in session. The air has grown cool. My Autumn Joy Sedum are turning crimson and a few errant leaves, tired and confused after an indifferent summer, are beginning to drift from their branches with the passing breeze. Fall is definitely in the air.

The farmer's market will close for the season in a few short weeks. I will miss the stalls of bright flowers, the baklava and gyros from Pop-a-Bak, Sweet Asylum’s fantastic Cheesecake Shooters, the smell of freshly ground coffee from Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters, mini cupcakes and delicious Herb Infused Limeade from Truly Scrumptious and, maybe most of all, quail eggs from Reister Farms.

With a dozen quail eggs and some other items I picked up at the market last week, I assembled some great Bruschetta. These pretty appetizers hint at seasonal transitions.  Bright with late summer color and flavor they are substantial enough to appeal to cool weather appetites.

Even better, they are easy.  I simply baked Crostini, topped them with Piquillo Pepper Bruschetta (something I won in a gift basket at last year’s Camas Farmer's Market's Farm to Table Gala) and a single fried quail egg.  For a garnish I added a sprinkling of snipped herbs from my own backyard garden.  The result was irresistible!



Quail Egg Bruschetta

1 baguette (Russell's Bread)
Tuscan Herb Blend Olive Oil (Navidi’s Olive Oils and Vinegars)
Parmesan cheese, grated (if desired)
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 dozen Quail eggs (Reister Farm)
Red Pepper Sauce (I used a jar of Piquillo Pepper Bruschetta by Elki)
snipped chives, or other herbs

Prepare the Crostini according to recipe directions.

Spread a generous amount of Red Pepper Sauce on Crostini.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. When hot, fry quail eggs over being careful not to overcook them.

Place a fried quail egg on top of each Crostini.

Sprinkle all with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh snipped herbs.

Note: I used jarred red pepper sauce but next time I might use my own Roasted Red Pepper Sauce that I serve over pan-simmered salmon. I would prepare it according to the recipe directions except that I would discard the collected juice from the roasted red peppers instead of adding it to the blender along with the peppers. I would also blend the mixture lightly to leave a little more texture.

Enjoy!

08 September 2010

Kitchen Confessions - Chess Squares



Cake Mix Questions

Sometimes I get the idea that using a prepackaged cake mix is considered anathema to food blogging integrity. Not every food blogger is apologetic about using mixes but there are many who are. As a whole we seem convinced that prepackaged mixes are inherently poor choices, at least nutritionally, if not morally, speaking.


I guess I kind of agree. Kind of....


I know that it is almost as easy to make most things without a mix. It is also generally less expensive and employs fewer preservatives. Making things from scratch allows me more control over the ingredients.

Still…..


Family Favorites

What is the right thing to do when my husband asks me to make Chess Squares? This is a recipe given to me by his mother. Chess Squares have been loved by the family for decades and have been served at many family events. I remember eating them at receptions, showers and summer barbecues. They are a tradition in the family, an easy recipe made with only five ingredients, one of which is a box of yellow cake mix.


So, when my husband suggests that I make these, what should I do? Should I laugh? Refuse? Make up a new and “improved” version without a cake mix? Or should I simply give the man what he wants?


Understanding the relationships involved, I made the Chess Squares following the recipe as written.



To Blog or Not To Blog?

But then I wondered – should I blog about making these or not?


Obviously, I ended up thinking, "Yes!" Chess Squares are a family favorite and many of the recipes I post are here because my family wants the recipe. Honestly, they are not too worried about the integrity of my cooking ethic or whether or not the recipes I use cut corners and include ingredients of convenience. If it tastes good to them they'll eat it. Besides, at college my children don't always have a pantry full of staples and there are times when a recipe based on a cake mix is much easier for them to handle and still more economical than buying snacks on the go.


I don’t use mixes all that often in my own kitchen but I don’t know why I should feel bad about using them when I do. Sometimes they even add a special quality to a recipe that is valuable. When I bake shaped birthday cakes I often use a pound cake recipe based on a boxed cake mix because of how well it holds together for carving and shaping. I also use that recipe because it tastes really good.


Cake Mix Confessions

And then there is the Pumpkin Praline Cake I make almost every fall that starts with a cake mix. It is easy delicious and has an awesome praline topping. I can confidently make it in no time when providing a meal or attending a potluck.


Normally I would make scones from scratch but last weekend I noticed that I had a scone mix in my pantry. The boys were hungry so I decided to give it a try. I added cinnamon chips and a sprinkling of course sugar and cinnamon to the top. While I didn’t like them quite as well as the simple scones I make from scratch, they were good.


And while I am playing true confessions with boxed mixes, I must admit that, while I usually dress them up, I often start with a boxed mix as a base for brownies. They turn out consistently delicious and on the average as good as homemade brownies starting from scratch, with less fuss and dirty dishes to clean.


So there you have it. Now, do you want to try one of these scrumptious Chess Squares or not? Mine are almost gone but you can make some yourself….if you dare.



Chess Squares

1 box yellow cake mix

1 stick butter, softened

4 eggs

1 8oz.package cream cheese, softened

1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cake mix, butter and one egg. Press the mixture into a 13" x 9" pan.

In a small bowl beat together the softened cream cheese and 3 eggs. Add the powdered sugar and continue beating until smooth.

Pour the cream cheese mixture over the cake mix mixture and smooth it to the edges of the pan.

Bake 45 minutes at 350F. Remove to wire rack to cool. Cut into squares.

Serve and enjoy!

04 September 2010

Wasabi - A Sweet Surprise?


Flavors of Japanese Candy

When I travel I am always on the lookout for unique candy and other sweet creations. In Europe there is little challenge involved. Chocolate is well loved and from Cadbury to Cailler to Kinder Surprise Eggs can be found in many creative forms. Traveling in Japan I was on the same quest. I was looking, but finding a Japanese sweet to appreciate is more of a challenge to those steeped in western culture and preferences.

The candy in Japan is often beautiful. Tins or bags of hard candy shaped like flowers or beads or even sushi appeal to the eye, but are bland in taste. Beautiful sweets made of sweet bean paste are fashioned to reflect the seasons and locality as they accompany and balance the bitter refinement of matcha green tea but they are generally more upscale and sold in specialty shops or department store food halls.


In my search for sweets I generally try to avoid American brands but when it got down to finding a unique candy bar in Japan, one meant to stand on its own, I had to reconsider. In the airport, as we waited to board our flight home, I saw some Kit Kat bars I couldn’t resist. First I noticed the Green Tea flavored one. Interesting but, well, not unexpected. Green tea flavors many sweets in Japan. Then I looked closer and noticed that there were actually two varieties of green candy coated Kit Kats: Green Tea and Wasabi. Wasabi did sound interesting and unique! I bought a few just for the sake of novelty.

A Convergence of Asian Flavors

Before I had a chance to sample them I was off on another trip. This time it was domestic travel, through Chicago. There I stumbled over a Vosges Haut Chocolat shop and picked up a small assortment of their exotic truffles. One I had been eager to sample for years happened to be in the box. It also happened to contain a hint of wasabi. Coincidence?


I savored that truffle on the plane to Paducah. It was subtle but I could discern each element of the flavoring in this American take on Asian flavors. The wasabi was just a hint, the ginger a mild sensation, the black sesame seeds a matter of texture more than anything, all wrapped up in a luscious dark chocolate dipped ganache. It was delicate and complex, a thought piece, a flavor poem. I really enjoyed it.

Back home, having enjoyed my wasabi infused truffle from Vosges, I decided it was time to sample that Japanese Wasabi Kit Kat bar. I broke it open, took a bite. This one was anything but subtle. The bitter heat of the wasabi was low key, taking a moment to develop and identify, but the taste was unmistakeable. I actually enjoyed the lingering heat but the bitterness had a mitigating negative impact. Untempered with any other flavor but sweet and contrasted with the signature crunch of a Kit Kat the flavor was blunt, a single note slightly off key rather than a finely tuned chord.


Sublime Combinations

Still that Vosges truffle was sublime and overall I am convinced of the potential of wasabi as a sweet contrast. The wasabi does add an element of interest to chocolate and seems more promising to me as an enhancement to quality chocolate than as a theme flavor for a candy bar. In combination with other interesting flavors it can add a distinct and surprising low note to round out a well constructed chord.

The Wasabi Kit Kat was interesting but I wouldn’t go out of my way for a repeat performance. Once was enough. On the other hand I would seek out more Vosges Black Pearl truffles. It seems that others agree as it is one of Vosges’s most popular flavor combinations.

Based on my experience with those Black Pearl truffles (I picked up more on the way home) I am inclined to keep wasabi in mind as a flavor to experiment with in my own candy making and cooking. Like chile peppers and cinnamon in chocolate, wasabi makes a powerful contrast that can empower a fuller taste experience. And my serendipitous thematic introduction over the summer must mean something… We’ll see what comes of it.