Monday, April 1, 2013

Oma's Cheesecake

Most of my posts focus on simple and delicious dinnertime meals – that's pretty much the extent of my time in the kitchen.  But every once in a while I like to try my hand at baking.  Some people have a knack for it, some people don't.  Sometimes I can turn out something edible, and sometimes, well... let's just say I never shared my Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies for a reason.

My grandmother turned 91 this year.  Oma (German for "grandma") used to cook the best German roast beef, dumplings and "curly" cabbage, and she'd always have a homemade dessert.  Crumble kuchen was a specialty, but I always loved her cheesecake.  I remember the first time I had restaurant cheesecake, I was so excited to taste it, thinking it must be just as good.  And I remember the disappoint when I tried it and it just didn't compare.

As Oma got older, her cooking and baking became more infrequent until finally one day she never stepped foot in the kitchen again.  A lot of her recipes have been lost over time, and some of them are in German shorthand that no one can understand. But recently I found her handwritten recipe for Cheese Cake. While it had a little bit of broken English, I was able to figure out most of it, and I decided nostalgically to try my hand at it.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but a couple of hours later, I had a cheesecake that looked just like Oma's!  But how would it taste?  I brought the cheesecake with me this past Easter weekend to have my family taste test it. Everyone had a piece and it got rave reviews!  My dad said it was perfect, and said it tasted just like hers.  Oma tried a piece for herself and she agreed!  Proud moment for me - maybe I can bake after all?

I wanted to make this recipe as close to her original as possible, which meant hunting down a German product called "Zwieback" for the crust.  (Zwieback looks just like Melba toast, so you could probably just use that, or regular graham cracker crust.)  My dad pointed me in the direction of a German import house to find the Zwieback, since they don't carry it at your neighborhood Giant Eagle.  Hansa Import Haus in Ohio City looks nondescript from the outside, but when you walk through the doors you are immersed in the Old World décor, polka music, and shelves and shelves of everything from authentic candies and snacks to cheeses and meats behind the deli counter.  It brought back memories of eating liverwurst soup and rye bread with butter that Oma used to draw diagonal lines through to make it look more fun when we were kids.

Here's what you'll need:

34 Zwieback (1 ½ boxes)
1 ½ Tbsp. sugar
2 ½ Tbsp. butter

5 eggs (at room temp.)
24 oz. cream cheese (at room temp.)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla

1 ½ pints sour cream
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Here's how to make it (with my improvisations in italics):

Crust: Crush Zwieback between two wax paper sheets or grind through a meat grinder.  Since the food processor has been invented since this recipe was written, I chose to grind the Zwieback in a food processor.

In a mixing bowl, combine crushed Zwieback,  sugar and butter.  Mix and tab into 9 x 13 baking pan.

Filling: Cream cream cheese with a wooden spoon (or a hand mixer if your arm gets tired).  One at a time, add in the eggs. Then mix in the sugar and vanilla. 

Poor filling over the crust.  Bake in 300-degree oven for 50-60 minutes.  Take from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Turn up oven to 475 degrees.

Frosting: Mix sour cream with sugar and vanilla.  Spread over the cheesecake.  Bake at 475 degrees for 4-5 minutes.

Let cool and then chill in the refrigerator for at least a few hours – the longer, the better to let it set properly.

What to try next  hmm, maybe the dumplings? 

Have you ever restored an old family recipe?  How did it go?

Monday, March 25, 2013


Trying to get back on a healthy track, I recently pulled out one of my healthy eating cookbooks.  Rocco DiSpirito's "Now Eat This!" tauts "150 of America's Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories."  Now I usually find some way to make a healthy recipe unhealthy, but this book at least helps me get a good start. 

I have always been a shrimp lover. The family joke goes that on Christmas Day each year they used to buy two shrimp trays -- one for the family, and one for me.  This recipe for Jambalaya, adapted from Rocco's book, pairs my love for shrimp with my desire to make a healthy meal.

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon paprika
3/4 cup long-grain brown rice
2 sweet Italian sausage links, cut up (Rocco's recipe obviously calls for andouille, but I had Italian and it worked just fine!)
14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 pound peeled and deveined shrimp

Here's how to make it:

Chop onion, green pepper and garlic.  Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Spray with cooking spray.  Add onion, green pepper and garlic.  Sauté about 5 minutes or until tender.

Add chicken broth, paprika and rice.  Season with a few shakes of salt.  Cover and heat on medium heat for a few minutes, then switch to low.  Cook on low for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage.  You don't have to cook it all the way through, since it will be cooking in the pot for awhile in the next step.

Stir in sausage and tomatoes.  Continue to cook on low about 30 minutes more.  This really lets the rice and meat soak up the flavor.

Bring small pot of water to a boil.  Add shrimp and boil until they are a light pink color.

Season shrimp with salt and stir into rice mixture.  Cook covered 10 more minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Classic Goulash

As winter bears on (that groundhog clearly didn’t know what he was talking about), I was in the mood for a cold weather meal.  OK, maybe not sticking to our healthy eating plan for the moment, but sometimes you just need to indulge.  (Spring is just around the corner, right?)

This recipe for Classic Goulash, adapted from Allrecipes, really warms the heart.  I love this mixture of flavors and textures, the classic “American” way to make this Hungarian dish.  Next time, I’m going to try Smitten Kitchen’s version -- there seem to be lots of variations on goulash. 

The key I’ve learned (with lots of dishes) is to experiment with seasonings and find what you like. Below I’ve listed the ingredients and amounts that I use, but feel free to make it your own way and find the flavor that works for you. 

Here’s what you’ll need: 

1 pound ground beef
½ chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ cups water
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 ½ tablespoons  soy sauce
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb seasoning
Few dashes dried basil leaves
Dash of seasoned salt
Couple good shakes of dried oregano leaves
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni 

Here’s how to make it: 

In a large Dutch oven, brown the ground beef.  While it’s browning, chop the onion and “zoom” the garlic.  When beef is almost browned, add in the onion and garlic.  Cook 10 minutes more, until onion and garlic are fragrant and look delicious. 

Stir in water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, soy sauce, and whatever seasonings you like.  Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in macaroni.  Cover and simmer on low heat again, for another 25 minutes.  Continue to stir occasionally.  Remove from heat and serve.

Makes plenty, and tastes even better warmed up the next day.  Save it to get you through the rest of this never-ending winter!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spinach Smoothie with Fruit

Going in a bit of a different direction … as I’ve been looking for new recipes to try, I’m coming across a lot more than just delicious dinner recipes!  There is so much out there.  And Greg and I recently decided to start trying to eat a little healthier than we have been.  I’m going to be looking for and cooking healthy dinners, but we’re also looking to change our breakfast, lunch and snack habits.  

Instead of that Saturday morning Dunkin’ Donuts run, why not start your day with a nutritious and delicious smoothie?  I’ll admit – when I first came across the pictures of these green smoothies, I thought, ‘Ew. Who would want to drink that? Looks gross…’  But after making and drinking it, there is only a slight veggie/green-ness undertone to it.  The mango, grapes, and lime juice really mask the fact that you are drinking a spinach smoothie.  And this smoothie is so good for you – spinach is packed with protein and lots of other vitamins and minerals. 

The original recipe, found in Real Simple magazine, calls for collard greens, but spinach was presented as a substitute, and I went with it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tablespoons lime juice
½ water
2 cups chopped spinach
1 ½ cups frozen mango chunks
1 cup green grapes

Here’s how to make it: 

Pour lime juice and water into blender first. Then follow with chopped spinach, mango and grapes.  Puree for at least a minute until smooth.  (I noticed a few tiny bits of spinach while I was drinking it, so next time I’ll probably blend for 90 seconds or so.)  Add more water if you like your smoothies with a little thinner consistency.    

This was a super quick and easy recipe to make.  Now that I know how easy and healthy smoothies can be, I think I’ll be using my blender a lot more often!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli and Bell Peppers

Here’s another healthy recipe I found in the pages of Cooking Light magazine.  I have realized that we eat a lot of the same types of foods in our house – this recipe contains broccoli and peppers, two things that I know I have blogged about before.  But they’re healthy and delicious, so I guess there’s nothing wrong with that!  However, I just might have to change it up a little bit soon.  Nothing too crazy, or Greg won’t eat it!  This recipe combines meat, veggies, and grains, making it an easy one-dish meal.

Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli and Bell Peppers adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 pound flank steak
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 pound frozen cut broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
Hot cooked white rice 

Here’s how to make it:

Cut steak in half lengthwise, and then cut each half across the grain into 1/8 inch thick slices.  Combine meat with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, garlic, and black pepper.  Mix well.  Cover and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  Sometimes I even leave it in there overnight.

Combine water, remaining soy sauce, and crushed red pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add beef mixture to the skillet.  Cook until browned, stirring occasionally.  Once browned to your liking, remove from heat and set aside. 

Add broccoli to the skillet and allow it to cook until tender crisp.  Add the red bell pepper slices to the skillet.  Stir and cook for about a minute.  Add the beef mixture to the skillet.  Stir in the water/soy sauce/crushed red pepper mixture.  Cook until heated through.  Serve over the hot cooked rice.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Roast Chicken with Balsamic Bell Peppers

Greg is back in town and last night I made one of his favorite meals to warmly greet him home. (I know, I am such a good wife!)  This one is adapted from a recipe I found flipping through the pages of Cooking Light magazine.  I used to have a subscription, and I don’t know why I don’t anymore!  The cover of the November 2012 issue caught my eye in the grocery store line a few months back, and I couldn’t resist buying it!  (Those point-of-sale marketing tactics really work…)  It was their 25th anniversary issue, so there were quite a few good recipes in it, but this one quickly was added to our regular rotation. 

Roast Chicken with Balsamic Bell Peppers adapted from this recipe originally published in Cooking Light. 

Here’s what you’ll need:
fennel seeds
ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
skinless, boneless chicken breasts
olive oil
cooking spray
thinly sliced red bell pepper
thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
thinly sliced shallots
sprinkle of rosemary
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Here’s how to make it:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add some oil and swirl it around. 
Put together the spice rub – combine ½ teaspoon salt, ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder and oregano.
Gently pat a light layer of the spice rub over the chicken and place chicken in the pan.

While the chicken is browning, prepare the peppers and shallots.  The original recipe calls for two cups of sliced red pepper to one cup of sliced yellow pepper.  I just get one red and one yellow.  I like the contrast of the different flavors. 

Also, onions are a perfectly good substitute for the shallots, but I do think the shallots are a little more flavorful.

Once the chicken is browned, transfer to a shallow baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake for 10 minutes in the oven.
While the chicken is baking, add a bit more oil to the skillet.  Add peppers, shallots, and rosemary to the pan.  Sauté for about 3 minutes.  Then, stir in the broth and scrap up any remaining browned bits from the pan.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Increase the heat to medium-high again and stir in the vinegar, a dash of salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring to let the peppers and shallots mixture soak up the flavor.

Serve pepper mixture over chicken.  Serve with a side of mashed potatoes. Buon appetito!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Parmesan Crusted Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich

My new obsession is Pinterest. I actually joined the site about a year ago, but at the time I didn't really get it. Well, now I get it, and I love it. I have been collecting recipes to try on my "Eat, drink & be merry!" board. I recently pinned this recipe and decided it sounded simple enough.

Take a look at that link to see what it's supposed to look like, because my pictures don't seem to look like that! This recipe proved that not all recipes are as easy as they seem, but the final product doesn't have to be pretty to taste delicious.

 If you're looking for a twist on the classic grilled cheese, you've come to the right place. 

Here's what you'll need:

2 slices ciabatta or French bread (I used ciabatta)
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 slices mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Here's how to make it:

Spread the butter on the outside of each slice of bread.  Spread the basil pesto on the inside of each slice of bread.  Place the mozzarella slices on top of one pestoed inside piece of bread.  Place the other slice of bread on top of that.


Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the outside of one side.

This is where it gets tricky.  Place the sandwich, cheese-side down in a medium-hot pan.  The recipe says to let it cook for about 2 minutes or until the cheese is crusty and golden brown. I found that it cooked pretty quickly and even stuck to the pan, so I didn't leave it on long before I sprinkled some cheese on the other side, flipped it over, and cooked it on the other side for another minute or so.

All in all, this was a very quick, delicious eat. It only took me about 10 minutes to make, and while it doesn't look all that special, it was a tasty mixture of flavors that satisfied my grilled cheese craving.