Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Cheesecake Epiphany

I trust that you all had a MERRY CHRISTMAS? Ours was nice and quiet, and I prepared a somewhat Italian-themed feast which consisted of an aged prime rib roast that we acquired at this great little Italian market that we discovered in Albany called Cardona's. I marinated the roast beast in a ton of garlic, cracked black pepper, fresh rosemary, olive oil, and balsamic--and cooked it in my fabulous new All-Clad roasting pan that my roomie got me for Christmas! SQUEE!

For our side dishes, we had pumpkin ravioli (acquired at Trader Joe's in Albany) in browned butter with crispy sage leaves, grated Grana Padano, and pine nuts; steamed green peas in a lemony vinaigrette; and homemade chocolate cream pie for dessert. Then after dinner, I cleaned out the back fridge (full of old, frozen leftovers) to make room for the new leftovers (ha!), and even managed to haul the trash out over the ice floes AND gather the mail from across the treacherous turnpike without falling on my ample posterior. It was truly a Christmas MIRACLE!

The next day, I spent an hour trying to dig Cyd's car out of the ice and snow, but no dice. Then yesterday, it took us an additional 45 minutes and the strategic application of ice melt, kitty litter, and pots and pots of hot water, but we FINALLY managed to get her freed from the ice floe that is our driveway and parking spots! YAY! Another Christmas miracle! So the poor thing was able to go see her beloved Patriots play in Foxboro, MA at Gillette Stadium, which was my birthday and Christmas gift to her. I got a text from her this afternoon after the game had started. It said, "It's awesome. In freezing rain but awesome." LOL! The poor thing. Living the dream. The wet, cold dream.

Of course, with my roomie gone, that left me rattling around the house alone, which rarely ever happens. It was fine, because I had an article for the local food magazine overdue, and I got that done at long last. Then my dear friends Janice and Domenica took pity on me being on my own and invited me over to dinner tonight. Somehow I made it there alive despite sliding all over the icy roads, and we had a lovely meal and lively conversation.>

But the highlight of the evening was THIS: Goat cheese cheesecake with a toasted walnut and graham cracker crust and this crazy (but crazy delicious) red grape, walnut, red wine, and rosemary compote on top. It may sound a little weird, but it might be the best cheesecake I've ever had...and I've had a LOT of great cheesecakes! I strongly encourage you to give it a try. I know I'm going to make one to share with Cyd when she gets home.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Red Grape Compote
(Source: Cuisine at Home Magazine)

For the Crust:
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted

For the Filling:
1 pound goat cheese at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs at room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Grape Compote
rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.Toast walnuts in a 350 oven until golden and aromatic, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Process walnuts, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor until fine, then transfer to a bowl and stir in butter. Press crumbs onto the bottom and 1" up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Patch any holes that could cause the filling to leak. Bake crust until golden, about ten minutes; cool while preparing the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 250. Beat both cheeses, sugar, and sour cream together in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a hand mixer on low speed) until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in cream and vanilla. Pour filling into cooled crust, smooth the top, and bake at 250 for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. The center will not be fully set. Remove cake from oven and let stand at room temperature until completely cool; cover and chill overnight.

To serve, remove sides form the pan, then slice. Before making each cut, dip a thin-bladed knife into a glass of hot water and wipe dry with a towel. To remove a slice from the cake, turn the knife sideways and lift the piece out, or use a narrow-bladed spatula. A small offset spatula works well. Garnish with Red Grape Compote and a sprig of rosemary.

Red Grape Compote 

3/4 cup dry red wine 
1/3 cup sugar 
2 teaspoons cornstarch 
2 cups red grapes, halved 
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
freshly ground pepper 

Simmer wine, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking until thick, two to three minutes. Pour syrup over remaining ingredients, toss to coat. 

NOTES : Suggested wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. Don't overcook the wine syrup or else it will thicken too far and make the grape topping sticky and gloppy.

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