Lightly Lemony Mascarpone and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

I know it’s Pi Day and everyone is making pies but I don’t care. This post is about cheesecake and I’m not just talking about the dessert. What I’m talking about is the illustrated art of Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren. The cheeky glamour of Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. I’m talking about those black and white photos of me in 1940s swimwear and cork heeled wedges that I let my friend take the last summer we were in high school.

I mention this not only because I’ve made a cheesecake and want to share the recipe with you, but because there is such a cheesecake element when it comes to marketing women and food. Whether its Padma Lakshmi eating ribs in her underthings and licking chocolate off her wrists or Nigella Lawson provocatively putting pasta in her mouth, so many female cooks are presented like pin-ups. Gorgeous hair, makeup, and plunging necklines over pushed up breasts supported by flirty peek-a-boo bras.

I’m not judging this cheesecake aspect, but where’s the beefcake counterpart? Where is the Magic Mike of Mediterranean cooking and why isn’t he sexfully telling me how to make mezze? Men’s cookery books and television programs are not promoted this way.

While the story behind the term cheesecake is probably apocryphal, I choose to believe. In 1912, James Kane, a photographer for The New York Journal, was positioning a model when a breeze blew up her skirt. As more leg than usual went on display, he tried to think of the greatest superlative to express his delight. Being a huge fan of cheesecake, his response was “That’s real cheesecake!”

I wouldn’t necessarily call Dita Von Teese cheesecake even though some of the photos she has taken are very much so. But she has mastered the art of vintage pin-up glamour better than anyone else. So before I give you my recipe, I’m going to leave you with a video of Dita doing what she does. You’re welcome and I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Gil Elvgren

Alberto Vargas

Betty Grable

 

Marilyn Monroe

padma

Padma Lakshmi

padma2

Nigella Lawson

Ingredients for the base:

3/4 c ground almonds

10 Hobnobs

40 g meted unsalted butter

Method: 

Put the Hobnobs and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are crumbly like meal. Add the butter and pulse the mixture again. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a 9″ Springform tin. You can use your hand or the back of a spoon to do this. I like to use the bottom of a drinking drink. When it’s all smooth, place it in the refrigerator.

 

Ingredients for the cheesecake mixture:

500 g Mascarpone

100 g cream cheese

100 g caster sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

zest of 1 lemon

4 eggs

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180°C/350°F

Put the cheeses in a medium sized bowl. Use a hand mixer to beat them until they are smooth.

Add the sugar, eggs, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla bean paste.

Put the kettle to boil.

Remove the tin from the refrigerator. Twice cover the outside of the tin with strong foil.

Place the foil wrapped tin in a large roasting dish.

Pour the cheese mixture into the tin.

Pour boiling water around the outside of the tin. Don’t pour it more than halfway up the cake tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center of the cake is set but not rigid.

 

Ingredients for the creme fraiche topping:

175 g creme fraiche

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

 

Method:

Whisk the ingredients together until smooth.

Pour the topping over the cheesecake then put it back in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven.

Carefully remove the Springform. Remove the foil from its outside then stand it on a rack to cool.

When it has cooled completely, put it in the refrigerator to chill.

Blueberry Crumble Bars

Corn.  Cattle.  Pella Windows.  Dutch letters.  Red covered bridges of Madison County (somewhere my initials are carved into one).  Elk Horn’s Danish windmill.  Butter sculptures at the the state fair.  Moths as big as birds.  Fishing in my aunt and uncle’s backyard.  The Hawkeyes.  The best writers’ workshop in America.  Glenn Miller, John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Donna Reed.  Electrical storms in summer.  Fireflies.  Farm life. These are a few of the things that come to mind when I think of Iowa.

Well, that and bars.  By which I mean bar shaped baked goods–the treats that make the Midwest go round.  Iowans love them.  I love them.  And as a woman with strong family roots there, I felt it my duty to finally post about them.  Most tend to be of the chocolate variety, but mine are blueberry.

This morning at the greengrocer’s my four year old chided me.  “Blueberries aren’t in season, mommy.”  I trained her too well.  “That’s right, darling.  In England they’re not, but lucky for us they are in . . . (I picked up a carton and read the label) Spain.”  “Morocco too.”  I needed a few more cartons and the Spanish ones ran out.

Below is my blueberry bar recipe.  It’s a crumbly one with notes of almond and fresh lemon.  As the sky was so blue today and the sun so warm, it felt like the most appropriate bar recipe to bake.  I love it as much as my Grandpa Jim loved the Hawkeyes.  My hope is you do too.

where corn is king

ISF-butter-moneybags

Butter sculpture

Me at my Grandmother's

Me at my Grandmother’s

moth

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

The Sorensens

The Sorensens

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My aunt and uncle's backyard

My aunt and uncle’s backyard

mama in iowa

at coco's downtown harlan

james warren

Grandpa Jim

 

Ingredients:

For crumble:

1/2 cup caster sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

125 grams unsalted butter

1 egg

 

For filling:

4 cups blueberries

1/2 cup caster sugar

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon cornflour

 

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 4/ 350F/ 180C.

Lightly butter a small ceramic dish and set aside.  The measurements of mine were 8×12 inches.  If you like lots of crumble, use a smaller dish.  8″ x 8″ would be perfect.

Mix all the ingredients for the crumble, except for the egg, in a large bowl with your fingertips.  Combine until it resembles a fine meal.  Then incorporate the egg.

Place 2/3 of the crumble in the bottom of your dish.  I use my knuckles to push it into place.

Then in another bowl mix the lemon juice, zest, sugar, and cornflour.  Gently stir in the blueberries and coat.

Pour the berry mixture on top of the crumble layer.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the crumble on top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow the bake to cool completely before cutting into it.  This will give you a better set bar than just a lot of crumble.

baked crumble

blueberry crumble bar

Food for a Summer Cold

Being sick in summer is the worst.  Especially if you live in England where blue skies and sunshine are rare.  When my Casablanca lilies are in bloom and the berries out back are ripe, I want to be outside.  Not tucked up in bed surrounded by Kleenex, wearing socks,  and smelling of menthol.

To me, summer means swings on which to swing.  Or if you’re Southern, swangs on which to swang.  A boat pond begging for paper schooners to sail across its surface.  Berries for crumble and cobbler that won’t pick themselves.  Bubbles to blow, daisy chains to make, and roses that I want in my cheeks instead of just in a bedside vase.

That’s why this weekend I said chest colds be damned and made a delicious lunch to heal all the family.

If you’re like me you might not think much of celery on its own.  Sure it’s great for adding depth to things like chicken stock or bolognese, but by itself I’m never tempted.  Unless it’s in a soup.  Which is exactly what I made.  My recipe is as simple as it is savory and equally delicious.

The other thing I made was a drink I call Hot Ginger & Dynamite.  It’s a potent hot lemonade with a fiery kick that’ll burn whatever ails you.  Ginger to heal, honey to soothe, and lots of lemon for vitamin C.  Cold medicine’s never tasted so good.  Except maybe at night when I like to add a splash of whisky to it.

Below are my recipes.  Though they have healing powers they’re also great to make when you just want to eat something good and clean.  I hope you enjoy them.

Celery Soup

Ingredients:

2 bunches of celery (with leaves–that’s where the flavor is), washed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

chicken or vegetable stock (or just water)

2 Tbsp olive oil + 1Tbsp butter

Marigold stock powder (optional)

Method:

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onions and celery until soft.

celeryonion Sautéing

Here is where I stir in a tablespoon or two of Marigold powder for a extra depth, but you certainly don’t have to.

Add the stock or water.  I put in enough to cover the celery by half an inch.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Lastly, blend until smooth then serve.  If you haven’t used Marigold powder, do be sure to season with salt.

simmer bowl of soup

Hot Ginger & Dynamite

Ingredients:

the juice of 3 lemons

1-2square inches of freshly grated ginger

2 mug fulls of water

1/4 cup honey and then some to taste

Method:

Bring the lemon juice, ginger, and water to a boil.  Turn down and simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Stir in the 1/4 cup honey until dissolved.  If you want it sweeter, add more 1 tablespoon at a time to suit your taste.

ginger lemon tincture

Crab Cakes for Lenny Bruce

Recently, I walked through the aisles of my local supermarket and was horrified when I stumbled upon the American section.  Imagine a few shelves packed with every manner of preservative and artificial color.  Everything from Fruity Pebbles to Nerds and Cheetos to Pop Tarts and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Basically, food for children.  Or stoned people.  I was so embarrassed I had to walk away.  I didn’t want other shoppers to think I was contemplating putting any of these items into my basket.  Then I saw the Boylan’s Black Cherry Soda and I couldn’t resist.  I also couldn’t help thinking about Lenny Bruce.

In the 1960s, Bruce neologized Jewish and Goyish as part of his act.  In it, he included many foods.  Black cherry soda being one of them and to me the most memorable.  Probably because as a kid it was my favorite drink to order when eating Reuben sandwiches at Greenblatt’s.

Kool-Aid is goyish. All Drake’s cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish, and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes–goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish. Macaroons are very Jewish–very Jewish cake. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.”  This is what played out in my head as I stood mouth agape looking at the black cherry soda of my youth.  I started to feel self-conscious with all the passersby witnessing my struggle.   

Eventually I put the indecision to an end and put the bottle of Boylan’s in my basket.  I headed for the check out and drank my soda with relish on the way home.  When it was finished, I hid the evidence of my crime against acceptable cuisine in some random recycling bin on the street.  I wanted no evidence to shame my English family.

Then the snob in me surfaced.  Sure I might have been purchasing crap from the American section of the grocery store but I was buying Jewish crap, not Goyish. Not that any English person would necessarily know the difference.  Nor any Goy.  But I knew and this made me feel superior.

When I came home, I had Lenny Bruce on the brain and that night his spirit found its way into my cooking.  Throughout his career, Bruce was frequently arrested under charges of obscenity.  And as obscene as he was charged for being, I topped that in the kitchen by making the most unkosher thing imaginable(not that I’m kosher).  Crab cakes with creme fraiche on top.

Lenny, I dedicate this obscenely good crab cake recipe to you and if you were around, I’d invite over for dinner so you wouldn’t have to be all alone.

Ingredients:  

1/2 a pound of cooked crab meat

2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced, boiled and steam dried

a bunch of dill, chopped

a bunch of chives, chopped

2 tablespoons of capers, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

the zest and juice of a lemon

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1/4 cup mayonnaise

vegetable oil for frying

salt & pepper

a plate of flour for dredging

a plate of one whisked egg

a plate of bread crumbs (I find 2 pieces of toast is all I need)

 

Method: 

In a large bowl, mash the potatoes with half the herbs, spices, zest, and juice.  Then mix in the crab and incorporate well.

crab mixture

Form the mixture into cakes and refrigerate them about half an hour.  While they are chilling, combine the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, remaining herbs/spices/juice/zest for your sauce.  Set this aside.

crab cakes

Dredge the cakes in flour, then egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.

pre-frying

Place some oil in a large skillet.  Over medium heat, fry the cakes until golden on both sides.

frying

Serve immediately topped with sauce.

crab cakes with sauce

 

Beet Greens Salad

Some people love beetroot.  I am not one of them.  Though I have always loved a good borscht, I have never loved beets.  In fact there was a time when I wouldn’t even eat them.  Not until I was 25 and my kid sister’s nanny always made them for her–roasted and served with balsamic vinegar, was I able to eat them without grimacing or furtively giving them to the dog under the table.  But what I have always loved are beet greens.  Sweet and delicious and packed full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and protein.  They’re also really pretty with bright purple veins running throughout.  It’s a shame but most supermarkets sell beetroot without the greens attached.  To get them go to a farmer’s market or just grow them yourself.  You won’t regret it.

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Ingredients:

1 bunch of beet greens, washed and chopped

a bunch of dill, chopped

1/4 cup toasted chopped almonds

the juice of 1 lemon

a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper

 

Method:  Put all the ingredients into a large dish, toss ,and serve.

2014-05-25 14.34.58

 

 

Lemon Icebox Pie

It’s no secret some of my family can be described as country. Some have owned trailers; others homes in Appalachia with dirt floors. Many own guns. Many love 4 wheelers and most have driven at least 60 miles for the nearest good mall. All have grown up on or near a farm. And in case you didn’t know, yes, my mama was 15 years old when she had me.

So while the way of life I just described wasn’t exactly mine when I was growing up in Los Angeles, I still saw and lived it at least once a year. Generally in the summertime when the lightning bug lit fields of Iowa provided my cousins and I with a playground until well after dark. My point is a person cannot escape her past. No matter how hard she tries, the highfalutin schools she attends, or the manners she acquires, some things are inescapable. Like a hankering for icebox pies.
Despite growing up in Hollywood where there are people as unctuous as Texas gold, I could never hide my country roots. I considered multitasking doing anything with curlers in my hair. And even now in London, much to my Scottish mother-in-law’s chagrin, I use Mason jars as opposed to proper drinking glasses. Why? I prefer them. Also, they remind me of running around barefoot in cut summer grass eating icebox pies during the dog days of a prairie summer. You know those days that are so hot and humid walking down the street feels more like wading in lukewarm buttermilk and every living creature stands still waiting for a breeze, even the flowers? That’s American Midwest summer. During this time only icebox pies will do.
A friend of mine’s grandmother, a Kentuckienne named Miss Hampton, used to say the icebox pie was her favourite. When asked why, she replied. “It requires no cookin’. Just an icebox and a vodka and Coke plus a pack of Kools to pass the time.”
     While I love icebox pies, be cautioned. ‘Tis a slippery slope. Just one slice has been known to lead people to droppin’ Gs and addin’ As to thangs. They also lead to a simple kind of happiness. The kind that can only be found in Bobbie Gentry songs, Kodachrome prints from years past, and Great-Grandma’s icebox of course.multitasking-curlers

baldwin sthermie

my sister trying to steal a pigletRight. Enough of nostalgia. It’s time to tie your hair back with your favorite kerchief and get bakin’. Never in the history of ever has an icebox pie made itself.   P1020859

Graham Cracker Crust

Ingredients:

14 graham crackers or 1 packet of Hobnobs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons melted butter

Method:

In a food processor, pulse all the dry ingredients until they become a fine meal.  Slowly add the melted butter and pulse some more.  Pour the mixture into a 9″ tart tin and press it evenly against the bottom of the dish as well as up the sides.  I use the bottom of a measuring cup to help.  Place the tart tin on a tray and bake for 5-8 minutes at 350°F/170°C/Gas 3 or just until slightly crisp.

shell

Graham Cracker Trash Lemon Icebox Pie

Ingredients:

1 graham cracker crust  (if you don’t have graham crackers use HobNobs)

2 (14 oz.) cans of sweetened condensed milk

1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

the zest of 4 lemons

8 large egg yolks

Method:

Heat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas 3.

Put the crust into a 9″ tart tin.  I like to use a measuring cup to help me do this.  I use the bottom of the cup to spread the crust evenly and to tamp it down as well as to help shape the sides.

Whisk the milk with lemon juice and set aside.

lemon juice and condensed milk

Whisk the zest into the yolks until the mixture goes pale.  This takes no more than a minute.

yolks and zest

Now whisk the milk mixture into egg mixture.

Pour into the tart shell and bake for 30 minutes or until the center is set like a soft custard.

pre-bake

Cool completely then freeze overnight or at least 6 hours.

freezing

Remove the pie from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.  Top with chantilly cream and enjoy.

out of the freezer

Chantilly Cream

Ingredients:

2 cups cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I like to use vanilla bean paste)

1/4 cup powdered sugar

whipped cream ingredients

Method:

Mix ingredients on medium high until desired consistency is achieved.  Be sure not to over-mix or you’ll end up with butter.

cream

lemon icebox pie

Noilly Prat and Bacon Fat and Apple-Berry Crumble for Boys Who Are Humble

Oscar is my neighbor.  He is twelve and despite the ten and a half year age gap, Helena adores him.  Frankly, so do I.  More Dickon Sowerby from The Secret Garden than Glen Bishop from Mad Men, he has a sweetness about him (a quality I think he inherited from his mother) and an interest in me, the lonely foreign outsider, that’s really endearing.

When Helena and I are out back picking berries he comes to the balcony to chat.  Today, like last weekend, he came down with thick gloves and a pair of secateurs to help.  For an hour and a half he and I collected blackberries while Helena sat on a gently sloping hill eating them and trying to fish out her Thomas the Tank Engine as well as her wooden clown toy she had stuffed down a fox hole.

While in the communal garden Oscar refilled his bird feeders and introduced us to his friend, Mr. Greedy, a chirpy robin red breast he’s been feeding for years.  We talked flowers and fauna and woodland creatures and pest control–a trade he’s learning from his dad.  But they never kill the animals he wanted me to know.  They only trap them then release them into the wild.  Well, maybe except for rats.

After some time Helena was much too stained and sticky and grumpy to remain outdoors.  So we took her and her wooden toy inside.  Thomas, it seems, has gone missing.

P1000458

As a thank you for all his fruit picking help, I told Oscar and his mother that Helena and I would bring him a crumble of his own.  But first, I’d have to cook Kleine Maus some lunch.  So here is what we had–chicken legs cooked in bacon fat and Noilly Prat.  Below is the recipe.  And below that is the recipe for the apple-berry crumbles I baked.  I hope you enjoy them both.

Bacon Fat and Noilly Prat Chicken Legs:

Knowing that I had chicken legs for lunch, I purposefully left this morning’s bacon grease in a pan.  I reheated it over a medium-high flame then added the chicken pieces that I had rubbed down with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I sautéed them and constantly shook them around, so as to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes.  Then I added a quarter cup of Noilly Prat and allowed everything to sizzle.  I waited until the liquid evaporated and the chicken skin was crispy again.  The result was sweet, salty and aromatic.  It was also stupidly delicious and probably too good for a toddler.  But what can I say?  I love her.  I put truffle oil on her scrambled eggs and cook her nice things.

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Apple-Berry Crumble Ingredients:

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas5

For the fruit mixture:

blackberries (I used about 6 cups worth)

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced  (not too thin!  otherwise, they dissolve)

the zest of 1 lemon + half a teaspoon of its juice

1 3/4 cup sugar (a mix of Demerara and caster)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract

about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

Combine all ingredients except for the berries.  Those you gently stir in once everything else is mixed.  Take care not to bash them otherwise you’ll have soup.

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For the crumble topping:

1/4 cup flour

1 cup sugar (I use a combination of soft brown and Demerara)

1/2 cup dried coconut

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 tablespoons of cold cubed butter

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and use only your fingertips to combine it until it looks like fine meal.  Sprinkle liberally atop your crumble.

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Now bake for about 50 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit is viscous and bubbling.  Serve with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or a nice vanilla bean ice cream.

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