organic

Meyer Lemon Limoncello Ricotta Cheesecake… a mouthful, please

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When you always have an abundance of fresh eggs, you’re naturally always pondering interesting ways to use them up.  Add to this the current, albeit short, season of meyer lemon availability,  a local food swap haul that included some homemade lemon curd and a generous Mason jar of Lauren’s luscious homemade creamy limoncello, and options begin to present themselves.  Then into my head pops a recent proclamation of Greg’s that The Cellar (a/k/a Chef Vola’s) made the world’s best ricotta cheesecake.  I don’t know about you, but when a spouse has the audacity to proclaim anyone but you makes the world’s best anything, that’s cause enough to start setting that record straight 😉

Williams-Sonoma’s inspiration cake

Rarely do I not [Google] [Images] [Keywords] when I’m about to embark on a new recipe, or just head to Pinterest and keyword search.  If  the visuals grab me, I’ll visit the site and read the text; recipes, ingredients and technique.  I’ll usually take a few recipes that appeal to me, and “use” them as a foundation for creating one of my own.  The majority of this inspirational credit goes to Williams-Sonoma’s recipe.

The walnut crust really caught my attention, as did the “fall” in the center.  Mine did not crack and fall, but no matter because I topped with lemon curd rather than a dusting of 10x.

I made notes of my tweaks as best I could as I went along, just in case I did manage to “set the record straight” with it.  I tend to cut the sugar, “up” the total amount of crust ingredients, and nearly always add another egg, a duck egg, the whites of which I always whip.  It just makes everything “lighter.”  I also tend to shy away from cheesecake recipes that call for more than one block of cream cheese.  If you like the heavy NY style cheesecakes, you’ll probably want to pass on any of my cheesecake recipes.

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I always gather all ingredients, utensils, monkey dishes and gadgets (mise en place) first, especially when room temp is involved, as it is with most baking projects, and read the recipe(s) in full, in advance, more than once.   For example, this recipe calls for some preplanning in that the crust needs to bake, cool down, and then go into the freezer, the cake sits in a dormant oven for up to three hours and then gets refrigerated for a minimum of four hours thereafter!  So time it out so it’s gloriously ready when you were hoping to serve it.  Best advice:  make it the day before.

When I’m on a recipe mission, I’ll admit I’m sometimes dismissive of the “background noise” chit-chat of a sweet blogger whose lovely image captured my attention enough to make the click.  Despite this, I am “one of them.”  I do like lots of images, though, and I am also “one of them.”   I’ll post the tweaked recipe here in the middle; further background noise chit-chat relegated to the bottom of the page.

Meyer Lemon Limoncello Ricotta Cheesecake with Walnut Graham Crust and Lemon Curd Topping

Walnut-graham crust: 
8 – 10 oz. crushed graham crackers
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, or as needed for texture, melted
(reserve some for garnishing)
 
Ricotta Lemon Filling:
1/2 lb.  (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (8 oz.) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup (8 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/4 cup light cream
1/4 cup creamy limoncello
Finely grated zest of 2 meyer lemons (reserve some for garnishing)
1/4 cup (2 fl. oz.) freshly-squeezed meyer lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Fiora de Sicilia (or tsp of vanilla)
1/8 tsp. salt
 
Topping (garnish):
4 to 6 oz. fresh lemon curd
reserved lemon zest
reserved walnut-graham crust
lemon slivers
 

Make the crust first.  Preheat  oven to 325.  In a food processor, pulse the grahams until finely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl while you process the walnuts until finely ground. Add graham crumbs back to processor bowl, along with sugar and about 5 tablespoons of the melted butter (drizzling it all over and around the crumbs).  Pulse, pulse, pulse to incorporate, scraping down and adding more butter if necessary just to the point that the crumbs come together when you pinch lightly between your fingers.  Transfer to a lightly buttered 9-inch springform pan and *lightly* press over the bottom and as far up the sides as possible without “collapsing.”  (See “noise” below.)  Bake until lightly browned (8-10 minutes), let it cool down, then place in freezer until ready to use.

Reduce oven temp to 300.  Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, transfer to a clean mixing bowl and set aside for a minute while you combine the rest of the ingredients (cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, yolks, cream, limoncello, zest and juice, Fiori and salt).   Beat on medium until creamy, scraping down bowl… or use the food processor.  Using a rubber spatula (or open whisk type gadget of choice), very gently fold in whites until incorporated. Pour into the chilled crust, smoothing top if necessary.

Wrap the springform pan with foil and set on a baking sheet.  Bake at 300 for 30 minutes, then raise temp to 325 and bake until golden brown on top, edges are firm, but center still jiggles (35-45 minutes). Turn oven off, but open the door and leave the cake in the oven for about 3 hours.  It’s okay if the center cracks and falls a bit. Remove from now cooled oven and cover tightly with plastic wrap, but avoiding contact with surface of cake.  Refrigerate overnight (4 hours minimum).

To unmold, gently run a thin knife or offset spatula around the sides to loosen from the pan, then carefully “unbuckle” it, pull the side piece out wide enough to lift it off without damaging the crust.


 

The Noise…

Mise en place
I was short on the light cream (because I use it for my coffee and I drink lots of coffee), so I topped itIMG_2826 off with some raw organic milk. There’s simply nothing quite like it. Best “legal” local source for us (now that our friends formerly residing in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley relocated to Delaware) is the Reading Terminal, and Lancaster County Dairy is the best choice there.  The price is right ($4), the Amish guy is sweet, the milk is raw AND organic AND perfectly creamy, and they sell it in glass (for a deposit) – you just wash out the container and swap it back next time and your deposit carries over.  Fair Food Farmstand at the terminal also sells raw milk, but it’s way overpriced ($8/gallon), not labeled organic, and only comes in plastic.  Yes, my pic shows a plastic container, but that’s because we only have one returnable glass container right now, and we always get at least two gallons when there.  And, yes, there’s lots of “noise” behind the benefits of real, raw milk; a discussion worthy of a full blog post on its own.  
 
Meyer Lemons… 
just the zest, no pith

just the zest, no pith

Not sure when or where I first heard of Meyer lemons, but I just love them now.  They peel (and taste) more like a lemony tangerine, aren’t nearly as tart as a traditional lemon, and their color is somewhere in between the two.  The lemon curd link above takes you to David Lebovitz’s blog wherein he not only shares his lemon curd recipe, but gives you his take on Meyer lemons.

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The Crust…

A good crumb crust wasn’t always so easily achieved, but because I love crumb crusts so much, I’ve learned a few lessons along the “acceptable but disappointing” past attempts.  One, easy on the butter.  It just needs to be cohesive enough to stay put.  Two, don’t PACK IT IN, literally.  I tend to have a heavy hand with things I “manipulate,” and invariably I would press the crumb mixture with way too much force, thinking that was the only way to keep it from springing a leak or caving in from the sides; the end result usually being a crust so solid (and cookie hard) that it was often left on the plate rather than complementing the forkful.  I tend to judge my success with pies and the like by the number of crusts I dejectedly scrape into the trash from my dainty flowered serving plates.  This one turned out well.  Even the thicker corner areas remained tender and palatable!  The more “liquid” content of a filling’s ingredients help because more likely than not there will be some seepage into the crumb.   The sides do not have to be even, or “be” at all.  I just happen to like sides on my cheesecakes… and the challenge of seeing how close to the top I can get before they collapse 😉

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looks like a lot...

looks like a lot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start with a very lightly buttered cold pan, then dump the entire mass of crumbs into the center, pushing out and up and patting down with not so warm hands.
 

 

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When you unbuckle the sides and some of the very top of the crust crumbles off, you know you’ve got a good one.  Those fallen angels go right into the garnish reserves.

 

 

The fluff… IMG_2831

If it calls for eggs and the texture can be lightened without compromising the recipe’s final result, I am whipping my whites.

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In this recipe, I used four extra large eggs and one duck egg (white only).

 

 

I always whip the whites first because it’s really important to have a very clean, dry bowl to get the best “air”; it doesn’t matter so much if there’s a little ‘white residue’ when you mix the other ingredients.

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Looks like I used the Cuisinart afterall to blend the cream cheese, yolks, limoncello, lemon juice, sugar, salt, zest, and Fiori.  This is how smooth it got before I folded in the whites.

 

Obviously couldn’t make up my mind on which implement I liked better for folding in the whites.

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I really pushed the limits here with filling the pan.  You don’t want it to the very top or things could get messy.

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Time to release the cracken!

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… and glaze the top with the lemon curd

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… and stick a fork in it!

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Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) are delicate, brightly colored edible flowers with round lilypad-shaped foliage.  Similar in taste to watercress, they make lovely garnishes, beautify salads or rice paper wraps such as spring rolls, make adorable canapes when stuffed with a sweet or savory soft whipped filling, can be folded into mayo or whipped butter that’s then “set” in decorative molds and enjoyed on breads, vegetables, baked potatoes or anything else you would slather with butter.  Easy to grow directly in the ground or in containers, every garden should be punctuated with nasturtiums, not only for their cheerfulness, but their value in natural pest control.  
 
 
According to Wiki, nasturtiums have been used in herbal medicine for their antiseptic and expectorant qualities. Good for chest colds, respiratory and urinary tract infections, and to promote formation of new blood cells. All parts are edible.  The flowers contain about 130 mg (2g) of vitamin C per 100g  (3.5 oz), about equivalent to parsley. 


CRAFTING NASTURTIUM BUTTER

  • Grab your basket and gather up organically-grown flowers with some amount of stem still attached, along with a nice variety of leaf sizes. 
  • Gently wash in cool water, shake off excess droplets, and allow to air dry between sheets of plain white paper towels.  
 

  • Whip room temperature butter (sweet or salted, but do keep it organic) just enough to make it light and fluffy. 

 

  • Pinch  a generous amount of petals and snippets of stem directly into the butter.  
  • Chiffonade a couple leaves by rolling them up together in a cigar-like fashion and slicing into thin strips. Add to butter.   (Optional:  Add bits of scallion, chives or any other herbs. A little beet juice for a pink hue.)
  • Mix until well incorporated.
  • Smooth a little butter into the bottoms of your chosen molds and press an arrangement of whole flowers, buds and small leaves to design out a decorative top.  

 

mini tart/cheesecake pans with those removable bottoms are great molds!
  • Using an offset spatula, press butter into molds and smooth top. 
  • Press a piece of parchment paper on top and freeze until solid.  
  • To unmold, tap upside down on counter, or apply a towel soaked in hot water, or run under hot water for a few seconds.
Use the larger leaves as “plating doilies” for a presentation with dainty style.
Packaged and labeled, I offered these at our August South Jersey Food Swap here at OneFlewOver Farm.
 The “bottom” of one that was pressed into a mini casserole dish.
 
Wrap the unmolded butters up like a gift in parchment, then wrap again airtight in plastic.  Label and freeze for a special occasion or an everyday affair.

Fresh Herb Butters and Succotash for the sufferin’

Sometimes a simple word will snag on my brain as it rolls off my tongue and I’ll subliminally ponder where in the world that ubiquitous word originated anyway, and how ironic it is that it sounds so perfectly right for exactly what it is. Nowadays, the etymology of just about anything, whether confirmed fact or suspicious wive’s tale, is but a quickie search and Wiki walk away. 



September is like the pentultimate checkpoint before the final curtain call on the plentitude of the “backyard-fresh” and locally-grown produce we enjoy all summer.  Dozens of just-picked, quick-blanched and sharp-sheared ears of corn from Reed’s Farm, as well as our own modest  corn crop, have already been hustled into air-tight bags for chilly weather comfort foods… think airy fluffs of custard casseroles, souffles and spoonbreads.

So, with this pensive thought of pending seasonal changes, I ventured out early Saturday morning to tend to errands I’d put off forever if it weren’t for the fact that my favorite cool weather business attire jackets were due for a dry cleaning and my swimming pool damaged hair was overdue a good chopping. Whenever I do manage to drag myself “out there,” I usually make it a mission to cram as many “necessary things” as can possibly be squeezed into that venture… motivation often coming from unnecessary things accumulating in corners and tote bags… some migrating closer and closer to the doorway as gentle reminders that it’s time to make a public appearance.
 
Heading home with a half dozen errands checked off the list, a few solid drops in the AmVets used clothing bin and no “confrontational episodes” encountered, my sense of accomplishment evolved into shameless thoughts of deserved rewards, which led to a glimmering hope that Reed’s, which is right on route, still had some corn and maybe something else of seasonal interest… besides apples.  I knew a basket of blushing ripe peaches was wishful thinking, but I’m not ready for apples just yet. Oh, joyous reward, there were limas!  Corn, too, they said for about 7 to 10 more days; thus, I knew this was to be my last “husky” haul ’til July 2013.   
 
With little regard and nary a care as to what else might round out our Sunday dinner plates, I was squarely making succotash!  I really didn’t need to store up any more corn, so I figured I’d  try some Pinterest experiments on “alternative ways to cook corn” with a few ears while hulling limas and finally getting around to whisking together fresh herb butters to freeze before a mean October frost delivered its buzz-killing blow to the herbs gone wild party in the half barrels outside the kitchen door…and then, of course, there’s that experimental corn that so graciously made itself available for the obligatory herbed butter taste test, volunteering without protest to lie still for repeated merciless slatherings…  now well-decorated kernels, a medal of honor is served.     
 

To make herbed butters:

Gather an assortment of sprigs of organically-grown herbs and/or edible flowers, chop or snip into bits and incorporate well into cold unsalted butter of the finest quality.  Spread smoothly into tin molds, jar lids, any cutesy vessel on hand, or log roll with parchment if you want to make cookie-cutter slices later.  Keep it simple or get creative with combos or a multitude of additions such as citrus zest (lime/cilantro, lemon/tarragon), boldly colorful juices such as carrot or beet (so as to use a bare minimum of liquid), garlic, crushed nuts or seeds (try hemp or chia), flowers such as nasturtium, viola, borage, or those bolting above the herbs or veggies.

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