Surprise! Cheesecake, at last

I have a reason for not posting at all over the weekend: I didn't cook or bake, despite planning to. I came home too late on Friday to cook dinner, but was still planning to bake my mom a cheesecake for her birthday. Then, she brought home half a cake from work. Then, my sister brought home a full cake plus two Napoleons (amazing desserts - something I will have to tackle sooner or later). Then, we found out that my dad also inadvertently had ordered a cake, and although it was a mistake and we were going to try to cancel the order - we had a lot of dessert. Needless to say, my cheesecake was unnecessary.

However! One of my Nutrition classes requires a cooking lab, and I don't normally take pictures of the food I make there and provide the recipes for them, but tonight I ironically was assigned to make cheesecake! The "theme" of the lab tonight was "grains and a vegetarian diet," so please don't ask me why my partner and I were assigned cheesecake. I didn't complain - it was almost as though the dessert gods were calling to me to make it, and who really turns down the chance to have a little dessert to shake things up?

I don't have the recipe at the moment, but it's being sent to me and I will be sure to post it. It was delicious! The crust really made it what it was - rather than a graham cracker crust, it called for gingersnap cookies crushed and mixed with melted butter...yum! It added this extra flair to an otherwise standard recipe. It baked for half an hour in a brownie pan, then I took it out, cut it up, and topped it with some fresh strawberries.

Unfortunately, no pictures. I brought one piece that fell apart when trying to remove it from the pan back to the room with me in the hopes of taking a quick, hopefully not fully pathetic picture of at least what the crust looked like. The pictures that I was able to get were beyond awful, so I won't torture you with those. It looked good, though!

So now I really will disappear for a while - at least another week and a half. I'd like to make a Passover-friendly dessert, but that probably won't come until Easter weekend.

In the meantime, Happy Cooking! (And Happy Spring!)

Update: Finally, after a month, I have the recipe! My friend in the lab copied it down and took it home with her, swearing she would send me a copy of it, too. So, I am maturely passing the blame to someone else for my tardiness. Here it is!

Cheesecake Bars, courtesy of my lab instructor's endless supply of recipes
The Crust
2 C ginger snaps
1/2 C butter, melted
The Filling
1 1/2 C cottage cheese
1/2 C soft cream cheese
2 eggs
1/4 C brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1 Tbsp lemon juice
strawberries, for garnishing

Melt the butter and place in a bowl with 1/4 C brown sugar and the flour. Mix, then press into the pan.

Puree the cottage cheese in a blender for approximately 7 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, then process more.

Spread the cheese mixture over the partially baked or unbaked crust, and bake 30-40 minutes.

Cool, then top with strawberries (or really, any fruit or topping) as desired.

And there you have it! But really, I'm telling you, it's all in the crust.

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A Crepe-y Morning

As you can see from the picture, I had a furry friend eager to help this morning. It all began with him trying to stick his nose in the strawberries I was cutting, licking the butter I had out, and nudging the pan on the burner that I was about to turn on. Needless to say, I was more than happy to eat with him staring at the finished product if it meant keeping him away from the stove and counters.

Today I learned how to improvise a recipe. I had the recipe for crepes, and made the batter at my house before heading over to my boyfriend's, since it needed to sit for half an hour. I then left the cookbook at my house. I also left a printed out recipe for a blueberry-raspberry sauce sitting on the printer in my house. So, I made the crepes how I remembered them, and the first few looked a little bit like eggs (though they tasted fine), but I got the hang of it eventually. As for the sauce, I completely winged it, and it turned out great! I put raspberries, sliced strawberries, a teensy bit of butter, a few splashes of lemon juice and just around a teaspoon of sugar all in a sauce pot and heated it over low heat. It got nice and juicy and the flavor was excellent. The only thing I should have done was heated the berries I had on reserve for just a minute in the sauce to warm them up. I wanted a few to be a little firmer, but the temperature contrast didn't work out so well.

All in all, though, it was a tasty breakfast! We also had some banana and nutella ones, but they weren't nearly as good as the berry mixture. Also, I thought the crepes on their own were just a little bit too sweet, and will probably cut the sugar by about a third next time.

The Joy of Cooking's Sweet Crepes
(Makes about 12 crepes - I halved the recipe and got about 8 out of it)
1 C all-purpose flour (substitution: whole wheat flour, what I had on hand)
1 C milk
1/2 C lukewarm water
4 large eggs
1/4 C butter, melted
1/8 tsp. salt (omitted)
3 T. sugar

1. Combine all ingredients, in order, in a bowl and mix until smooth.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.
3. If using refrigerated batter, gently stir and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
4. Heat a small to medium skillet (with a tiny bit of butter if nonstick - but not much is needed) over medium heat*. It is heated when the butter begins to color but not smoke.
5. Lift the pan from the heat and, using a ladle or small measuring cup, slowly pour enough batter to cover the entire bottom with a very thin coating, quickly tilting and rotating the pan.
6. Return the pan to the heat and cook until the crepe bubbles and bottom is lightly browned, 1-1 1/2 minutes.
7. Turn the crepes with a spatula or with your fingers (gently), and cook the second side until browned.

*Note: I found that medium heat was really high, and so lowered mine to medium-low, leaning towards low. Also, I used two different types of skillet: one stainless steel and one mystery material that was much nicer (perhaps cast-iron? Although it was safe to wash it in the sink, so I have my doubts about that) and the stainless steel consistently burned the crepes. There was nothing wrong with the taste aside from preference, but the aesthetic of the higher quality skillet was much better.

I also wish that I had warmed the crepes again after adding the filling and rolling/folding. I found that they lost their heat very quickly, and could have used an extra few minutes in a low heat oven.

I'm posting this entry from my dorm room, so I am once again kicked out of the kitchen and forced into the dining hall - for a week, that is. My mom's birthday is fast approaching and I told her that I would come home and cook her dinner (and might even make her a surprise cheesecake if I have time), so this blog shouldn't be neglected...yet. I make no promises, however, for later on in the semester.

Until Friday!

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The Spring Break Finale

Tonight I cooked dinner for the last time this week, and I have to confess that I'm somewhat relieved. I'm slowly learning how time consuming cooking can be, particularly when you move as slowly and ungracefully as I do, still. Compared to the rest of this week, though, tonight's meal came together painlessly and (relatively) quickly.

I chose a Beef & Orange stir fry and paired it with a Wild Rice & Barley Pilaf with Pomegranate Seeds, a recipe that I doctored so much I think it would more accurately be described as being inspired by that recipe. I try not to change recipes much if at all the first time I make it - after all, you have to know what you're dealing with before you charge in making all of these changes, right? But pomegranates are not so easy to come by and a wild rice whole grain blend in a box was more readily available and feasible than two separate containers that my family would never finish on their own, anyway. So, many substitutions ensued. The end product? Delicious:

Beef & Orange Stirfry, courtesy of
Yield: 4 servings
3 Oranges
2 cloves of garlic, minced (substitution: pre-minced garlic, a fraction of a spoonful)
2 T. soy sauce
1 1/2 lb. trimmed, boneless sirloin or rib eye, cut into 1/2 in. strips
1 T. cornstarch (substitution - whole wheat flour due to a last minute inability to locate the cornstarch)
1-2 T. canola oil
6 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1-in. pieces (modification: cut into typical small rings, taste preference)

Into a small bowl, finely grate zest and squeeze juice from 1 orange. Add garlic and soy sauce.

With a sharp paring knife, peel remaining 2 oranges. Slice oranges crosswise 1/2 inch thick, then halve slices; push out, and discard any seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss meat with cornstarch until coated. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Working in batches (adding more oil if needed), brown beef on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Pour juice mixture into skillet, and boil until syrupy, about 1 minute. Return beef to skillet; add orange slices and scallions. Toss until coated and heated through. Serve hot.

"Wild Rice & Barley Pilaf with Pomegranate Seeds" courtesy of
Yield: 6 Servings
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 C wild rice, rinsed
} (substitution: Persia Organic whole grain blend, discarding the seasoning packet)
1/2 C pearl barley
3 C reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth (substitution: water - chicken broth was another m.i.a. ingredient in my pantry tonight)
1/3 C pine nuts
1 C pomegranate seeds (substitution: an estimated 3/4 C dried cranberries)
2 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
2 T. chopped flat leaf parsley (substitution: 1 T. dried parsley flakes, after absentmindedly telling my mom last night that I was done using the parsley we had bought at the store)

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add wild rice and barley; stir for a few seconds. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the wild rice and barley are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 45 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Add pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, parsley and the toasted pine nuts to the pilaf; fluff with a fork. Serve hot.

And that brings to a close my week of being active with this blog. However, I'm going to make crepes for my boyfriend this weekend, and it is my mom's birthday next weekend so I told her I would come home and cook a meal for her. And then there's Passover, and I'll be home to hopefully bake some Passover-friendly baked good. So here's to thinking that from here on out I'll be a lot better at keeping up with this. I really like keeping track of all that I've made and a few thoughts on the recipes, even if I am the only one reading this.

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The Puppy's First Birthday: Part 1

Tonight commenced the first part of my preparation for tomorrow's Puppy Birthday Extravaganza, what's really an excuse for me to bake and cook for the same event and get more people to show up to eat it. But, as it's past midnight, my puppy, Yogi, is officially a one-year-old, a bona-fide big boy. So, I decided today I would get together with one of my friends to bake and decorate the cake - because juggling cooking responsibilities is still chaotic enough for me without adding another course the day of.

Of course, as soon as I got my camera out to document our progress, the Birthday Boy himself came running over for his own close up.

In all my relief of having finished baking, decorating, and escorting my friend back home after such a long day, I left the cookbook with the recipe in it downstairs. I will have to edit this in the morning with the full recipe. Overall, I'm disappointed in the cake's texture and flavor. It is a vanilla buttercream, and came out dry. I had to make a few adjustments based on what I had on hand, so maybe that's what did it, but it's a good thing there's a layer of chocolate buttercream followed by a layer of fondant. It would be a deliciously flavored cake if only it had turned out moister.

In terms of decorating, though, I have to say - I impressed even myself. I searched the internet for ideas for the cake (the cake itself I was hoping to be edible for humans and dogs, but upon running out of confectioner's sugar without enough icing to complete the cake, the only way I could think of increasing the volume was adding chocolate chips - so the cupcakes are done with a simple glaze so the pooch can have his share). I finally settled upon a Blue's Clue's cake, which I thought looked the most like Yogi. It called for one round cake along with several cupcakes for the ears, and my friend and I both agreed that before carving the head a little and adding the frosting, Yogi the Cake was looking a lot like a bunny rabbit. After adding everything, though - wow! Ace of Cakes, eat your heart out!

Not too shabby, eh? The fondant was a little patchy, the icing was a gamble, and the addition of chocolate makes the majority of the baked goods inedible for the guest of honor, but I really am pleased with the result. We even had a bunch of extra cupcakes lying around, so we heated up some Apricot preserves, strained them, brushed them on as a glaze, and decorated with fondant paw prints.

We started baking at 3:00 and, including an extended dinner break, did not finish until 10pm. Needless to say, it was a long day of baking, and everyone - even the pup - was tired by the end of it.

But then, tomorrow is only a few hours of sleep away, and I have a whole dinner ahead of me waiting to be cooked. I have a feeling you will be hearing from me again shortly.

edit: The Recipe - Vanilla Buttercream Cake from "Cupcakes" the cookbook, and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from "Perfect Cupcakes" the cookbook.

Yield: 1 9-in. cake + 10 cupcakes (this recipe is 2.5x the original one; the original did not make enough for this cake design)
for the cake:
15 T. butter, softened
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 C sugar
5 eggs
2 1/2 cup self-rising flour (substitution: 2 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 5 T. baking powder)
7 1/2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 6-hole oversize (Texas) or 12-hole standard muffin pan with paper baking cups (Note: if you're making the puppy cake, you will have to fill a greased 9-in. cake pan halfway with icing, and then make at least 6 additional cupcakes).

Beat the butter, vanilla, sugar, eggs, flour and milk in a small bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are just combined. Increase speed to medium, beat until mixture is changed to a paler color.

Divide mixture among baking cups; smooth surface.

Bake large cakes about 25 min., small cakes about 20 min. Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool.

for the icing:
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (substitution: 1/2 cup salted butter)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 T. heavy cream
*addition: a guestimated amount of melted chocolate chips to increase volume when I ran out of confectioners' sugar without enough icing to frost the whole cake

In a medium bowl, use a hand-held mixer on medium speed to beat together the confectioners' sugar and butter until blended. Beat in the vanilla; then, beat in enough of the cream to achieve a soft consistency suitable for spreading or piping.

Assembly, courtesty of
To shape the dog's face, cut out two half circles on both sides of the "top" of the cake round. For the tongue, cut out a triangle shape in the middle of the "bottom" of the cake.

For each ear, line up three cupcakes at the top of both sides of her head. Cut one cupcake in half and, on the last cupcake, use a toothpick to connect one half on each side.

Ice the entire cake and cupcakes (wrappers removed), and lay prepared fondant in desired colors and patterns. Use extra frosting to add the marshmallow eyes (take 1 marshmallow and cut in half lengthwise, and trim corners to make a rounder shape) and fondant pupils, nose, and eyebrows.

Also, after trying the cake again, I have no complaints. No, it is certainly no moist angel food cake, but the flavors blend well and it has a nice homemade taste/feel to it. I definitely enjoyed my piece tonight during my Thursday night t.v. show!

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A balsamic resurrection, of sorts

I was all gung-ho about this blog thing when I created it, but like most impulsive ideas, it hardly lasted. I forgot to take pictures the next few times I cooked, then I went back to school for Spring semester, and then I forgot about my blog altogether. I guess it's better to have been negligent before amassing some slew of devoted readers (my own parents haven't shown an interest in keeping tabs on it, so that gives you some idea of how optimistic I am of this taking off).

But then, being a Nutrition major, I had to take this class about food preparation. Essentially, I learn about everything from pots and pans to how to slow cook an egg, and why it isn't really sanitary to cook an egg that way, regardless. In this class, though, we're given extra credit if we cook something and take a picture of it. Aha! still wasn't enough, not even with it being my Spring Break. I made delicious (albeit formless and mushy) black bean burgers last night and, yet again, forgot my camera in all of the chaos trying to get everything together. But tonight I cooked again, and as it was in its final stages of sauteeing on low heat with my steamer bag of broccoli safe in the microwave, I finally remembered! I ran up and grabbed my camera, and turned into a near paparazzi member for food.

So onto tonight's adventure: Rosemary-Balsamic Chicken with Balsamic Ravioli, courtesy of Rachael Ray's cookbook.


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6-8oz. each)
  • 4 T. balsamic vinegar (2 T. just to coat chicken, 2 T. for pasta)
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 stems Rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped (Substitution: dried Rosemary)
  • Salt & coarse ground black pepper (Omission: salt)
  • 4 cloves garlic, cracked away from skin (Substitution: minced garlic)
  • 1 package fresh ravioli (12-16oz.) (Substitution: multi-grain elbow noodles)
  • 3 T. butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 handfuls grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 C chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Coat chicken in balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Season chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and let stand 10 minutes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for ravioli. Salt water and drop ravioli in water. Cook 8 minutes or until raviolis expand, float to top of water, and are al dente.

3. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken breasts and cracked garlic to the pan. Cook chicken 12 minutes, or until juices run clear, turning occasionally. The balsamic vinegar will produce a deep brown, sweet finish on the chicken as it cooks.

4. When the chicken is 2 or 3 minutes away from done, heat a second skillet over medium low to medium heat. To the second skillet, add butter to the pan and let it begin to brown.

5. Remove chicken from the first skillet and transfer to a warm platter. In a skillet over medium high heat and add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits, about 2 or 3 minutes, then transfer to paper towels to drain and return pan to heat, reducing heat to medium. Add oil and shallots to the pan and let the shallots saute 2 minutes.

6. When the butter for the ravioli has browned, add cooked ravioli to the pan and turn in butter to heat through. Add balsamic vinegar to the ravioli and cook a minute or 2 longer to reduce the vinegar and glaze the ravioli. The vinegar will become thick and syrup like. Add cheese, parsley, salt and pepper to the pasta and remove the pan from the heat.

It all began well. I got my chicken out nice and early, trimmed it, washed it, and marinated it. The recipe called for a 10 minute rest period, but because I tend to run around like a chicken without a head when I'm cooking, I decided a little extra few hours in the fridge with the marinade wouldn't hurt. One less thing to worry about, right?

So I started cooking, and everything kept going smoothly. I put the water on to boil for the pasta, it boiled, I started cooking the chicken, it didn't smoke up the entire kitchen as per usual. I melted the butter in the microwave trying to defrost it (a rookie move, I know), so when I put it in the pan for the pasta it didn't exactly brown as it should have. Regardless, it was all going swimmingly.

And then I drained the pasta...and realized there was almost nothing there. So I decided to add what I had to the pan to sautee in the butter and balsamic vinegar, and then put more water on to boil. Meanwhile, the chicken looked obviously done. I even cut into a fatter part of it and it looked dry. Since I'm terrified of serving dry chicken and it wasn't ready to be plated, I turned the heat down to low and shoved the chicken breasts to the edges of the pan, away from the central heat. I finished with the pasta, taking it off the heat as instructed...but then it sat too long waiting for everyone to get down to the table.

Basically, the pasta was cold (macaroni noodles apparently lose their heat quickly, as my all-knowing sister who has cooked three things in her life informed me wisely and matter-of-factly), and the chicken was absolutely not done in the center. It wasn't raw, and the parts that were cooked were deliciously moist, but let's just say it's good that this was a small family dinner. All in all though, I think it turned out well! And (mostly) everyone was understanding of the few faux-pas.

My next foray with chicken, however, is for a crowd of nine people, so let's hope I can master the art of fully cooking my meat, huh? You should be hearing from me soon: that crowd is set to arrive at 6pm Wednesday evening to celebrate my puppy's 1st birthday.

I promise, we aren't one of those crazy dog people. I just like any excuse to bake a cake, and people seem to like any excuse to eat it.

Until next time!

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