Cheesecake with Cranberry Port Compote


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I am generally not a dessert person. Often, when out to dinner, I opt for a second glass of wine over ordering dessert. If I’m going to spend the calories, I’d rather it be on wine. 🙂 But cheesecake has long been a weakness of mine. And this just may be the most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Adapted from a couple of recipes I’ve researched, below is the final product after much trial and error.

Also, I’m dedicating this post to my sister Brenda… who two days before Christmas was madly searching stores for a cheesecake without toppings. When I said, “It’s too bad you don’t live closer, I’m making cheesecakes tomorrow.”  She replied, “Wait. You can make a cheesecake?”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we come from the same womb.

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Petite Butter Crust Galette filled with Dark Chocolate Ganache


These tasty little dessert galettes will amaze and impress your friends. They’re like having your own personal little chocolate pie… and who doesn’t want that? The laborious handmade buttery crust will give them that wow factor I’m always looking for… but feel free to try a pre-made crust if that’s too time consuming or intimidating. Be sure to include the egg and vanilla creamer wash and they will still be pretty delicious.

Ingredients:
Butter Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 to 8 Tbsp ice water

Filling
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Himalayan pink salt for dusting (Kosher sea salt is fine if you can’t find this)

Egg Wash
1 med egg yolk
2 tablespoons of non-dairy vanilla creamer

Preparation:
Crust
1 – Cut the sticks of butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to an hour (the longer the better) so that they become thoroughly chilled.
2 – Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.
3 – Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. Gently shape into 2 discs. Knead the dough just enough to form the discs, do not over-knead. You should be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These small chunks of butter are what will allow the resulting crust to be flaky. Sprinkle a little flour around the discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days.
4 – Remove crust disks from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a large circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Using a 3 inch round cookie or dough cutter, cut out as many circles as you can get from the surface. Remove leftovers and gently kneed together and roll out again. Repeat until almost all the dough is used  Set is 3″ rounds, two inches apart on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet and cover with a wet paper town to keep moist.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the egg yolk and vanilla creamer. Set aside.

Filling
1 – Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until combined.
2 – Spoon the filing into the center of the dough round and swirl with the back of the spoon until you have an even layer, leaving 1/4-1/3 inch of dough showing.
3 – Pinch edges of exposed dough up until you form 5-6 points, creating a “bowl” for the chocolate.
4 – Use a pastry brush to wash over pie crust with the egg wash. Be sure to get the top edges.
5 – Take a small pinch of the Himalayan pink salt and spring over the chocolate.

Ready to Cook?
Place cookie sheets on a middle rack in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Ovens vary, so check your galettes at about 15 minutes to see how they are doing. The edges of the crust should golden brown. Wait 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

The Perfect Bite
As with any baked good – the perfect bite is always best right our of the oven. But caution… wait at least 5 minutes or you will scald the roof of your mouth. I may or may not know this first hand.

The Perfect Pairing
This may be the first mixed drink I have recommended. But I have a couple of reasons for suggesting pairing this dessert with a drink called a Presbyterian. Mainly, because these little galettes are a bit of religious experience. And I am, after all, a bourbon-drinking-Presbyterian. So, it’s fitting. But also, the rich dark chocolate, sprinkled with the Himalayan pink salt has an earthy sweetness that takes you buy surprise. As does the Presbyterian with its mix of ginger ale and bourbon… earthy sweetness in a highball.  A red wine would be good, but predictable. Try these two together and thank me later.

The Perfect Health
Hallelujah! Dark chocolate may contribute to improved cardiovascular health. Packed with natural antioxidants, dark chocolate and cocoa sit in the same good-for-you category as green tea and blueberries. Read more HERE.  Plus, my friend Tracy Utley claims it cures the common cold. And I, for one, believe her. She’s a mom of 4 boys, after all.

Mint Chocolate Salted Cookies


These mint chocolate cookies come with a surprise little bite. A little salt in the batter gives them an unexpected savory “wow factor”. I took them to a party last night and kept hearing throughout the room… “Oh my gosh! Have you tried these cookies? And that’s what I was going for…

Ingredients
(makes 2 1/2 dozen)
1 cup Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
¾ cups packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-½ teaspoon mint extract
2 whole eggs
1-¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-¾ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon Kosher sea salt – generous
1 cup Turbinado sugar for dusting cookies

Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy (use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer). Add the vanilla and mint extracts and then add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly with each addition. Combine the cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and gradually stir into the creamed mixture.

The dough is rather sticky so I find it easiest to use an ice cream scooper to scrape about a walnut-size ball of dough from the bowl. Roll dough into a smooth ball and then roll in Turbinado sugar. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Flatten cookies slightly with the palm of your hand. Space about two inches apart.

Ready To Cook?
Bake 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are puffy and the tops are cracked, but still soft. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

The Perfect Bite
Um, it’s a delicious cookie. Every bite is perfect. Warm from the oven of course.

The Perfect Pairing
Oh just do it – dunk it in milk and call it a day.

The Perfect Health
Well, it IS a cookie. And it IS made with a full cup of butter. So let’s just say… enjoy these in moderation. 🙂

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits


…or cookies. They’re technically cookies but they look like, and have the texture of, biscuits. Plus, if I call them biscuits then I can have one for breakfast with less guilt. So yes, browned butter chocolate chip biscuits is what I’m officially calling them.

Wait… browned butter? What exactly is that?

Because I didn’t take photos while browning my butter I’ve found this great site that shows you exactly how. But making browned butter is fairly simple… you basically melt butter in a small sauce pan and continue it on a medium to low flame until it builds a froth on top.  You’ll begin to see light browning spots in the froth and it will take on an earthy, nutty aroma. You have to watch it so it doesn’t burn… but the perfect browning happens right before it’s about to burn. The browner the butter, the better the flavor. Chill in the fridge until it becomes solid. You want it to be soft, but not melted. If it cools too hard, let it come back to room temperature before using. This will become your new secret ingredient that brings that “wow” factor to whatever you’re making.

Ingredients
Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1 cup browned butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (1 pound) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preparation
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a sheet pan (or two) with parchment paper.

Beat the brown butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium high speed with an electric mixer until light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add the vanilla.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined on medium speed. Add the chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.

The batter will be soft and fairly sticky. This is when I pull a large sheet of saran wrap out and put the dough in the center and roll it into a long tube-like shape, roughly 2″ in diameter. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes until it becomes more firm.

Ready to Cook?
Remove dough from the fridge and unwrap. Slice into 3/4″ dials, leave whole or  divide in two for smaller biscuits. Place on baking sheet leaving 2 inches in between each biscuit. (I divided the dials in 2 with the biscuits pictured above and below). Bake until golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

The Perfect Bite
Of course, hot out of the oven is the best bite for any baked good and it’s the same for these. But please, let it cool enough so as not to burn your palate for good!

The Perfect Pairing
Most people, including my roommate who jumped right into the kitchen as soon as these were done, prefer a cold glass of milk. But I’m a coffee and biscuit fan myself. But it’s all a personal preference when it comes to desserts. Heck, have a glass of Merlot with your browned butter chocolate chip biscuit if you want. This is America after all.

The Perfect Health
Butter, browned or not, should be consumed in moderation. I would recommend not using butter substitutes, I mean, do we really know what’s in that stuff? But butter, real butter, tastes better and is a “real food”. But moderation is key, regardless of what Paula Deen says.

Crystallized Ginger Molasses Cookies


I’m so excited about these cookies.  I haven’t had them in years and have never made them before… so after some research and a few friends sending me their Mom’s favorite recipe and Aunt Sue’s Fail Proof Tips… I came up with what I think is the perfect Ginger Molasses Cookie. It’s perfect, because I like it. Because it made me exclaim, “Oh. My. Gosh!” when I took my first bite.

What makes them special and gives them that “wow” factor… is using the crystallized ginger (which I found at an Asian market), and grinding fresh cloves and nutmeg (versus using pre-ground spices from a jar). The freshness was unbelievable and I love getting a surprise little bite now and then of the spices.

They’re perfect because they’re perfect for me. It’s a rainy day and I’m under the weather and this is exactly what I needed.

You decide for you.

Ingredients
1 cup dark brown sugar
2.5 oz. vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance)
3.5 oz. molasses
1 large egg
2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon stick (use a plane or zester)
1 tsp freshly ground cloves (use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder)
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (use a plane or zester)
1/2 tsp  ginger powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup roughly chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup granulated white sugar, for rolling cookies in

Ready To Cook?
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), blend together on medium speed, the sugar, oil, molasses, spices, and salt for about 3 minutes.

*Grinding fresh spices will take these cookie from good to fabulous. It’s worth the extra time – I promise you!

Add in egg and mix on medium speed for another 2 minutes.

Add in baking soda and flour 1/2 a cup at a time. Mix on medium speed until all the flour is incorporated. Add the chopped ginger and mix until blended.

Roll the dough into about 1 inch balls, and drop into sugar. If dough is stiff, flatten each ball on the cookie sheet. I found it flattened fine on its own. Dough will be VERY sticky – so I use prep gloves powdered with flour.

Put into preheated oven for 13 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes before removing to rack to cool completely. Makes 16 regular-sized cookies, or 8 jumbo-sized ones.

The Perfect Bite
Of course, the perfect bite is when they’re hot fresh and gooey out of the oven! These cookies should stay soft but if they start to get hard, put a piece of sandwich bread in with the cookies (in a Zip Lock or Tupperware) for about 24 hours. The bread will come out like a crouton and your cookies will be soft again. Magic!

The Perfect Pairing
A glass of cold milk or a cup of steamy coffee is be the perfect thing to sip with these sweet and tangy treats.

The Perfect Health
Ginger has been used as a natural remedy for many ailments for centuries. Now, science is catching up and researchers around the world are finding that ginger works wonders in the treatment of everything from cancer to migraines. Here are ten health benefits of this powerful herb.

Blueberry Oatmeal Bars


I love these blueberry oatmeal bars. They’re delicious as an afternoon snack, or even a midnight snack, or even for breakfast! They’re easy to make and are always a hit!

Ingredients
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup cold butter
1 cup blueberry preserves (I try to find low-sugar natural preserves)
Non-stick cooking spray

Preparation
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat an 8×8 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients plus the vanilla and mix well.

Add the cold butter and cut it into the dry mixture using two dinner knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal and is no longer powdery. Do not over-mix… bits of butter will still be visible.

Ready to Bake?
Set aside about half of the oat mixture; press firmly into the pan. Bake until lightly browned at the edges (but not completely baked)… roughly 13-15 minutes.

After you remove the pan from the oven, spread the blueberry preserves over the partially baked oat layer, then sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the preserves. It won’t be a solid layer, some blueberry will show. Bake until the topping is slightly browned, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before cutting into bars. Should make 9 servings. *Hint – these are best served warm, however, they need to completely cool before cutting – so once you’ve cut your bars, briefly warm in the microwave or toaster oven and then serve.

The Perfect Bite
As mentioned above, these are best served warm. If eating as a dessert try scooping a bite of vanilla bean ice cream with a warm bite of blueberry bar. Delish!

The Perfect Pairing
Enjoy with a large glass of of cold milk with breakfast or a steamy cup of coffee with vanilla creamer. As dessert, pair with a vanilla bean ice cream and some coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Mmmmm….

The Perfect Health
Did you know oats contain a large number of the antioxidants that may help protect cells from the process of oxidization? Scientists have recently begun to discover how oat antioxidants may benefit one’s health. Read more here.

Cranberry White Chocolate Parfait


FAT FREE! What? Yes, this delicious parfait is almost completely Fat Free and mostly Sugar Free. There’s a little natural sugar in the blueberries… but the anti-oxidants you get from this power fruit more than makes up for it. And there’s just a little sugar in the wafer crust at the bottom. All in all, this light & fluffy dessert is a perfect end to any hearty burger fest you may have this summer. And since it’s Fat Free – go ahead and add cheese to your burger!

Ingredients
(serves 4)

1 – 1 oz Sugar Free – Fat Free White Chocolate Jell-O Instant Pudding
1 – .3 oz Sugar Free Cranberry Jell-O
2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1- 8 oz container Cool Whip Free (fat free, only 1 gram of sugar and 3 grams of carbs)
1/2 cup reduced-fat Nilla Wafers – crumbled (only 2 grams fat per 11 wafers. You’ll be using less than 2 wafers per parfait)
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Preparations

Whisk together first 4 ingredients until smooth without lumps.
Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly mixed. Don’t use a mixer or beater as you want to maintain the fluffiness of the parfait.

Put Nilla Wafers into a food processor and pulse until evenly broken up. Add just a few at a time so you don’t get complete powder. You want the consistency of course sea salt.

Fill bottom of glasses or dessert cups (I used champagne flutes here) with about a full tablespoon with Nilla Wafer crumbs (use a little more if you’re using wider dessert cups) .

Top with parfait mixture leaving 1/2 inch room at the top. If using a narrow glass like these champagne flutes, it helps to use a pastry bag to neatly fill the cylinder.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. When ready to serve, top parfait with fresh blueberries. Don’t top with berries before refrigerating or they will sink to the bottom.

The Perfect Bite
As usual, I’m all about getting a little of everything on my fork or spoon. So dig to the bottom for some yummy Nilla crumbs, some fluffy cranberry white chocolate goodness and some fresh healthy blueberry. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
As mentioned earlier, this light and fat free dessert is a perfect way to top off a heavy meal of burgers on a hot summer evening. Paired with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Barefoot Cellars. It has dark fruit notes of currant, raspberry and blackberry, and a velvety vanilla finish that will be a lovely compliment to the cranberry and blueberry in the dessert. An affordable Gold Medal wine that is great to pass around those big outdoor summer parties.

Did You Know?
Most Fat Free products are still very high in calories, sugar and carbohydrates. Especially sweets that are marketed as Fat Free. Even products marked “low-fat” can still be high in calories, and even fat! They’re just “lower” than the full fat version. Read the Nutrition Facts Label to make sure you’re not purchasing something that is not as “reduced” as you think it is. Read more here.