Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's February, and I Miss Tomatoes...

...And therefore, I am busy planning my garden for this summer! I already started my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants a few weeks ago, as pictured above. This year, I used peat pellets, two grow lights, a heated mat, and occasionally a fan (which is supposed to strengthen the stems). I have been able to successfully germinate each seed I wanted to try, which is a HUGE improvement over last year when I got maybe 3 total! The grow lights have made a world of difference, since I don't have what you would call a "sunny window" in my house.

So speaking of tomatoes, I'm doing all heirlooms again. Here's what I have growing this year, by color (those I've never grown before marked with an asterisk):

Aunt Ruby’s German Green*
Green Zebra

Paul Robeson*
Black Krim
Black Cherry*

San Marzano


Jaune Flamme*

I'm already having visions of Bruschetta and fat BLTs dance through my brain!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Best New York Cheesecake

 New York Cheesecake

 Confession: I'm not much of a cheesecake fan. It always seemed too dense, too rich, liable to sit in my stomach like a brick for about a day. When a Cheesecake Factory opened up locally, I tried a slice once or twice, but overall, remained unimpressed. 

Then, recently, I stumbled upon a recipe for New York Cheesecake from Ruth Reichl, and my interest was piqued. As a big fan of the food writer and former editor of Gourmet magazine, I knew if anybody could share a good recipe for cheesecake, it was this long-time New Yorker. 

I was not disappointed. Cream cheese made without gum was expensive, so I only did 1 part of that to 2 parts of traditional cream cheese. Someday I'll splurge and make the whole thing with that creamy, crumbly, heavenly substance, but even a little natural, gum-free cream cheese made a huge difference.

I served my cheesecake at a New York-themed book club party and everyone voted it the best cheesecake ever, from the crispy-sweet crust to the creamy, smooth, double-layered filling. We devoured it happily and quickly. Thanks, Ruth! I knew you wouldn't let me down!

New York Cheesecake
Recipe by Ruth Reichl
Serves 12-16

For the crust
1½ cups chocolate wafer or graham cracker crumbs (about 6 ounces)
½ cup melted butter
¼ cup sugar
pinch salt

For the filling
1½ pounds cream cheese, preferably without gum, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla paste

For the topping
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste

Bake the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cookie crumbs with the sugar and the melted butter and press into bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Put into the freezer for 15 minutes (it will keep here, covered, for a couple of months). Bake for 10 minutes, just to crisp the crust. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees, and set the springform pan in a larger pan to catch any drips.

Make and bake the filling: Beat the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Pour into crust and bake 50 minutes, or until the cheese is set on the edges, but still a bit wobbly in the middle. (Depending on your oven, this can take up to an hour or more; just be patient and check every 5 minutes or so.) Remove from the oven (leave oven on) and cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Top and bake again: Stir together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla and spread over cooled cake. Return to oven for 12 minutes until glossy. Topping will set as the cake cools.

Chill: Cool completely, cover, and chill in the refrigerator at least 8 hours.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

When it comes to cheap meals, beans and rice is a favorite around here. We usually do a Cilantro-Lime Rice and Cafe Rio Black Beans, which are amazing by the way, but take a little bit more effort than my pregnant self was quite willing to muster up tonight.

For this Meatless Monday, I opted to try an easy-looking Cuban Black Beans with Rice. I was pleased to find that the recipe was not only quick (ready in about 30 minutes), but came out looking almost exactly like the picture. I used brown rice instead of white, and instead of radishes, I topped ours with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt. 

This meal was a good reminder to me that sometimes the simple things in life are the most satisfying. I want to be sure to remember this recipe the next time I'm in need of a dead simple and delicious dinner.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

1  cup brown rice
1  tablespoon  olive oil
1  onion, chopped
1  bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2  cloves  garlic, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
1  teaspoon  ground cumin
2  15.5-ounce  cans black beans, rinsed
1  teaspoon  dried oregano
1  tablespoon  red wine vinegar
4  radishes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used a dollop of plain Greek yogurt as a garnish)
1/4  cup  fresh cilantro 


Cook the rice according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans, oregano, and 1 cup water. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Add the vinegar. Smash some of the beans with a potato masher to thicken. Serve over the rice. Top with the radishes and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.