Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Cheesecake

The Christmas cheesecake is currently baking in the oven. I like cheesecake, but it is the desert of choice for my wife's family. I make a tradtional NEw York cheesecake with the crust being the only exception. This crust is gluten free. I make this cheesecake a few times a year. There are some variations in the crust as I try different gluten free cookies pulverized in a food processor, but the cheesecake never really changes. This time the sugar has been infused with vanilla beans and the vanilla extract was homemade. We'll see if there is a nice vanilla flavored boost in this cheesecake. Here is some cream cheese mixing. Only 7 blocks of cream cheese...the vanilla extract is in front of the mixer.

Here is a shot of the gluten free crust. The springform pan is wrapped in aluminum foil for two reasons. First, it will help keep the water bath from getting into the cheesecake. The foil also prevents steam from going over the top of the cheesecake. The walls of the roasting pan are higher than the walls of the springform pan. Without the foil barrier, the top of the cheesecake steams and gets, well, not good. Ask me how I know.

And here is the cheesecake ready to go in the oven. I'll post an update when the cheesecake is done and cooling.

UPDATE: Here is the cheesecake cooling. Doesn't look much different. It does smell better though.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Well, more a stay of execution..due to some construction issues, my hat-trick of all nighters got postponed. Only had to do one this week. But it was enough to make me groggy for a few days. There was one New Year's Eve (at least 15 years ago) where I convinced a handful of people to stay up until 6 in the morning because that was the "real" New Year. For some reason they bought it, stayed up and we all had fun. One of them was silly enough to marry me...but I can't stay up like that anymore.

Did a handful of cooking this weekend. Mostly made Christmas cookies. I would delight you with photographs, but the camera was brought to a holiday party on Friday and got left behind. If I remember, I can get it Monday morning. We baked a few batches of sugar cookies using one of Ruhlman's ratios. The cookies came out very nicely and the dough was very easy to roll. In the first batch, some flour was left behind. I omitted about half an ounce of flour from the second batch and the dough came together well. The sugar cookie is a slight variation from Ruhlman's 1-2-3 cookie dough (1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour). Perhaps there is a slight rounding error in the modified ratio. In the end, a few tablespoons not making it into the dough isn't the end of the world.

We also tried to modify the recipe to make some gluten free cookies. Without really thinking, we swapped out the flour and used a gluten free baking mix. The dough came together, it rolled out well, held shapes when the kids used the cookie cutters....but when it baked the shapes just oozed together. After the gluten free blobs cooled, I was able to re-cut some cookies. Some of the crumbs got used in a different dessert. The rest will become the crust of a gluten free cheesecake. The cheesecake is a family favorite. The gluten free crust is a continual work in progress. This time, I'm going to add some sugar to the crumbs and the pulverize with a food processor. There should be enough butter in there already. Press the crumb into a springform and move on with the rest of the cheesecake.

Just a reminder that in gluten free baking, flour and gluten free flour mix are not interchangeable. I knew that, but forgot it. I doubt I will forget it again quickly.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I don't want to go to work tomorrow

Some of the blogs I have been following seem to update several times a day with pretty interesting posts. Don't know how they do it. I have a lot of food related projects I want to do, but by the time the day winds down and I actually have some time I usually go for the mindless sort of time wasting before passing out.

Projects in the pipeline include:

Making pate a choux because Michael Ruhlman told me to make some. Well, not me personally. He was more trying to get everyone to make it. Awhile ago he encouraged me to make my own popcorn. I'm not sure why I needed his encouragement, but I haven't had anything out of a nuke bag since. If you are in the Honest Weight Co-Op, they have excellent bulk popping corn. Making popcorn this way will change your life. "Popping my own popcorn will change my life?" you ask. Yes. It will make your life better.

Holiday cookies. There are a lot of cookies to make. Fortunately, once we are done,there will be a lot of cookies to eat.

Sopressata - The follow-up to the Tuscan Salami will be a sopressata beginning to age some time in January. I've got to come up with some other stuff to cure too.

Snowy day pasta-making with the kids. Next time we are snowed in, we're making pasta.

Vanilla bean experiments - I promised my older daughter we would make some vanilla ice cream. (The extract, by the way, keeps getting darker. Going to wait awhile longer before I try it.)

I haven't cooked anything on our charcoal rotisserie for awhile. That needs to change.

The family's Summer in February will be coming up.

These projects will have to wait because unfortunately, this week is going to be the kind of week that makes me buy Powerball tickets. A dollar and a dream....I have a project for work that I'm not exactly excited about doing. And by not excited I mean dreading. It involves at least 3 nights of working the overnight shift. All-nighters used to be fun. In college, I used to stay up all night for no reason. Piece of cake. Even fun. Now, I need a week to recover. It is like having a hangover without enjoying the fun that caused the hangover.

When I come to and can focus long enough to use a knife without hurting myself, I'll be back in the kitchen. Everything is based on a construction schedule so who knows - maybe it will all get canceled tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Clean Tool Is A Happy Tool

That's what my father-in-law has always said about tools. I think with a minor modification, that mantra applies to knives. A sharp knife, if a happy knife. In the past I have brought knives to Different Drummer's Kitchen to get them sharpened. But I started procrastinating bringing knives there and while the knives were sharpened very well, the quality came at a cost. So, just before my birthday, my wife and kids were given a subtle hint. I wanted the Spyderco Sharpmaker. Here's a shot of the Sharpmaker.

I used it on all of my knives in mid-October. There was a very noticeable difference in the sharpness of the knifes. Tonight, I hit the knives I go to the most often.

I spent a little over 20 minutes sharpening these 5 knives. When I'm done sharpening, I think I will be making it a tradition to shred a piece of paper. I am always impressed how easily the sharp knife cuts the paper compared to duller blade 20 minutes earlier. And besides being proof of a job well done, it's kind of fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Cube Smells Better Than Yours

That was the subject of an email I recently got a work. The letter was from co-worker Mike to let me know our shipment of vanilla beans had arrived. This is my take from a $15 order of beans.

The larger pile on the left are cheaper beans from Madagascar. The smaller pile on the right arre Tahitian beans. The aroma of that many beans is pretty overwhelming. I was surprised how pungent they were through 3 layers of plastic (plastic wrap and 2 ziplock bags). So...what do I do with this many beans? The first project is extreme vanilla extract. I put about 2.5 ounces of beans in a bottle with some vodka. I'm using Lukssusowa potato vodka to keep the extract gluten free (my mother-in-law can't eat gluten). There are those out there that say the distallation process removes all the gluten and others that say they got sicking drinking allegedly gluten free vodka. Gluten free eaters seemed to agree that this brand was decent and I figured better safe than sorry. Here's the bottle ready to go into a dark spot with weekly (if I remember) shakings. There are too many beans in there to really see the beans. I should have taken a shot before I filled the bottle.

Other vanilla bean plans include ice cream and vanilla infused sugar. Anyone out there have other ideas?