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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! Time for Dessert!

My dessert offering tonight isn't a family recipe, nor does it really have a lot to do with any of my books. But oddly, it does have a lot to do with my a rather convoluted way...

You see, I don't cook well. In fact, I roasted a turkey for the first time last year. I have a handful of meals my mom and grandma taught me. Oddly, I'm a pretty good baker. But anyhow, I don't cook, but my daughter does. She's a chef, and a pretty elevated chef at that. She feeds the rich and famous, as well as the rich, powerful and less famous. She's kind of a someone in her field and dang. I had nothing to do with her skills. But when I pick up something in the kitchen, I pick it up really, really well. Which really bugs her. ;)

It takes courage to try something out of your comfort zone, and a few years ago, I was fresh off a pressure-filled year of writing and just decided to try making a cheesecake. I'd never made one but I knew my daughter makes a pretty mean dessert and I just wanted to know if I could do it. So when my family was out of town for a weekend, I tried. It was a pumpkin cheesecake and it was...okay. Not that impressive, but eat-worthy. Next I tried a chocolate cheesecake. My sister was taste-testing and absolutely loved it. Next up was the ultimate cheesecake: New York, plain and simple.

I experimented with recipes and finally concocted one I liked, and dang. It was gooooodddd. So I tested it on my youngest daughter, and she was in love. She asked if I'd make enough to do a fund-raiser for her dental hygiene class. (No. Sorry) So I was feeling pretty proud of myself till my oldest showed up for New Years. I urged her to try it and she refused. The next day I offered it again. And again and again, till she finally caved and took a sliver. And I mean a sliver. It was transparent.

She sat, ate it and then just sat there in her chair. She eventually got up, went to the kitchen and came back into the living room with a big, fat slice and quietly ate it. Then she looked at me and said, "Goddamnit, Mom...that's the second thing you make better than me!" (the other is a bread recipe.) I nearly got up and danced! LOL! At that moment, I felt as good as I did with my first ever five star review!

Anyhow, I'm not a good cook but I make a pretty darned good cheesecake and maybe for the New Year, lets all try something out of our comfort zone. :)

So here it is. My personal, private cheesecake recipe. I'm sure its out there in various permutations, but this is how I make it. 

Now the thing with cheesecake is how you bake it. Slow and low. Put a pan of water in the oven to keep it moist. And don't overcook!

Belinda's New York Cheesecake
Your favorite graham cracker crust or:
1/2 cup butter, melted
2s cup cinnamon graham cracker crumbs

3 1/3 packages (8 oz. packages) room temperature cream cheese
1 4 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
(Not evaporated milk!)
2 eggs 
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1tsp lime juice and/or lemon/lime or orange zest to taste
(this isn't a citrus cheesecake, but the juice and/or zest really plays up the tart edge of the creme cheese)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter; press evenly on bottom of 2 small springform pans. Bake for about 10 minutes, or till crust starts to brown slightly. Take out of oven to cool.

2. In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk, beating until smooth.

3. Add vanilla, juice, zest and eggs, mix well. Pour into prepared pie pans.

4. Lower heat to 300. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, turn off oven but leave cheesecakes in oven with door propped slightly open for an additional hour. Turn off the heat as soon as the center of the cake is solid, but still jiggly. Take it out and let it cool before chilling.

5. Refrigerate at least 6 hours until firm. I suggest you serve with lemon curd, blackberry jam or another tart topping. And whipped cream. Or just serve it naked. 

Variations I've tried:

Substitute juice and zest, using 2 tsps of vanilla
Juice and zest of an orange  
1 tbsp of Amaretto plus 1 tsp almond extract