Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes (Crack in a cup)

I first found this gem of a recipe over at Oh Sweet Basil this summer. She adapted it from a Martha Stewart recipe, and I’ve gone on to tweak it further. Since then, I’ve made these little suckers a handful of times with my additions here and there.

 

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Given that this recipe has been an absolute hit with everyone who’s tasted it, I thought it was about time I shared the love. You’ll need the following items.

for the crust:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
for the filling:
  • 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1 1/4 cups cream cheese, room temperature (I prefer the Philadelphia sticks, or Liberte brand)
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche (you can pre-purchase, or make your own)
  • touch of lemon or orange zest for added flavour
  • 2/3 cup  icing sugar
for the raspberry sauce:
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (or frozen, but I’m a purist)
  • fresh raspberries, for garnish

First up, the crust. Line a muffin tin with saran wrap, with a lot of slack to cover the cups themselves. In a small mixing bowl, stir the sugar, graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together until combined. When it’s fully combined, spread the crust mixture evenly among the cups, pressing the mix against the mould to form your “crust cup”. Once you’ve formed your moulds, put the tin in the freezer to set the forms.

For the filling, grab your electric mixer with whisk attachment and beat the daylights out of the cream until medium to firm peaks form, carefully place your whipped cream into another bowl, and then return your bowl to the mixer. Throw on your paddle attachment, and beat the cream cheese, creme fraîche, and icing sugar until fully combined. Now, fold in your whipping cream into your base mixture until smooth and combined. Scoop your filling into your now set moulds, and freeze until everything settles and firms up.

While these are in the freezer setting, get your raspberry sauce going. In a small saucepan, mix the cornstarch, sugar and water, and then add your 1.5 cups of raspberries and cook, stirring it steadily until everything comes to a boil. Once it boils, let it cook, while stirring for about another 2 minutes. Grab a medium or fine sieve and pour the sauce into a bowl to help separate the seeds. Let this all cool to room temperature.

Finally, gently remove your mini cheesecakes from the muffin tin, and drizzle with your raspberry sauce. Top them off with your left over fresh raspberries, and serve! You can prep this a day or two ahead of when you intend to serve, and I find that they preserve well in the freezer for a week or so.

I know this recipe sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Start to finish, I think I spend on average 40 minutes. It’s a sure fire hit, and you might find your diners reaching for a second without even noticing it!

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Gelato can change your life

I present part four, long overdue in the creative writing series. The topic, as ever, provided by 642 Things to Write About.

“Your most transcendent ice cream experience.”

I begin by slightly altering the topic to “Your most transcendent gelato experience”. This is two-fold. Firstly, ice cream is something you can buy at any grocer, corner store, or mom-and-pop shop across the way. Gelato however, gelato is a love affair you will chase across the globe. Ice cream is the poor man’s gelato, and anyone telling you otherwise should be put in their place. Secondly, I am in the midst of a 5 year love affair with gelato.

It’s not that I had never tried it prior to arriving in Italy, it’s just that everything that accompanied my double-scoop cone from Gelateria Santa Trinita was what put it at the top of my all time culinary experiences. (This is saying something, coming from someone who dated a chef, and a damn good one at that.) Sure, the atmosphere makes the experience of cool, perfectly flavoured crema and nocciola gelato dribbling down your chin fairly memorable. Let’s be honest, you’re in the middle of a Florentine palace (the Frescobaldi Palace, to be exact), everything by default is going to taste that much sweeter. There is a reason there were repeat purchases made here throughout the remainder of my week long stay in Firenze.

Santa Trinita Gelateria Exterior

Photo credit: Gelateria Santa Trinita online

 

Gelateria Santa Trinita

Photo credit: Almeera Ismail, Firenze, 2009

Most travel books tell you to visit San Crispino in Rome for great gelato. They are lying to you, straight up, bold-faced lies. If you must skip Florence and get gelato in Rome, please do yourself a favour and venture to your local pizzeria, or any restaurant for apertivo instead. You’ll thank me. Nothing will compare to gelato from Santa Trinita, nothing.

Unless you visit Vancouver. In which case, please, please, I beg of you, visit Bella Gelateria in downtown Vancouver. You will wait in line, likely year round, and absolutely so in good weather. But your taste buds will alight the minute you get your first sampling. I visited this establishment after returning from Italy (with my elitist gelato expectations in tow), and was absolutely blown away. (So too were a lot of Italians when this little company from Vancouver, B.C. won the 2012 Technical Jury Award, at the Florence International Gelato Festival in Italy. (And has continued to win, year after year, since).

Bella GelateriaPhoto Credit: D. Sitar and an iPhone5, 2014 (Eating Salted Caramel and Meyer Lemon Gelato)

Rather obviously, I accompanied a friend of mine for a noon “ice cream” fix ready to critique the heck out of their offerings. Trouble was, I couldn’t find a problem. In fact, in the three years since I had been back, this was the first time through taste alone I seriously wondered if I was back in that piazza, sitting on a church step listening to the sound of rain while I contemplated life over gelato.

It was those first moments in Florence, sitting in the quiet, the rain my only soundtrack, that I realized a few things. One was that this was truly the pace of life in Italy. This is a country that beats to its own drum when it comes to that ever elusive work-life balance. As a culture, they take their time with life, savour it. If there was one thing I brought back with me, it was this outlook on life. To savour the sweetness of doing nothing, and everything at the same time.

The other realizations were more personal. I was preparing to come back to Canada, and start a career that I was unsure of before it had even begun. This decision would be the first of many life lessons I would learn in the following years. And not once do I regret my decisions. Now, more than ever, I unabashedly believe that we are the creators and destroyers of our own opportunities. Your life is going to be what you make of it, so you better make sure you are going to be happy with the decisions you make now.

Lastly, on those very steps is where I came to terms with the fact that the relationship I was in was finally coming to a close. It was one of those that probably went on a little longer than it should, but you didn’t want to be the one to end it. You had gotten to that comfortable place where a part of you says “it’s not terrible, we don’t hate each other, and we care for each other, so why end something you’re sure of?” Life lesson: end it. The difference between being a young-twentysomething in a relationship and an older-twentysomething in a relationship is that you finally figure out that if you’re not 100% happy with something, you can say so.

It was in these quiet moments, savouring the sweet offerings of Florence that I was changed. I did not know it at the time, but slowly, your own self creeps up on you and surprises you when you least expect it. So go ahead, get that double-scoop cone or cup, sit on a park bench, on some church steps, or wander the streets. But whatever you do, allow yourself to enjoy those quiet moments. They speak loudly if you let them.

The greatness of sandwiches

A while back, I talked about a journal I stumbled upon, called 642 Things to Write About. I’ve been fairly diligent in writing every day, sometimes twice. So as part of the new direction of this blog, I give you the second in this creative writing series.

“The greatness of sandwiches.”

Sandwiches are perfect. Straight up, they are legitimately p-e-r-f-e-c-t. They don’t discriminate in their length or width or smell, if they’re regulated as a side to a soup, or if they’re your entree. Sandwiches just want to be there for you, to be eaten, and savoured. The perfect sandwich will aim to please you so greatly, you’ll come back to them. They are not unlike your own personal yes-man. Hungry? Yes-man. Want a delicious sandwich that’s the perfect mix of protein, seasoning, garnish and cheese? Yes-man. I reiterate, sandwiches, you are perfect.

If done right, you, the eater, are faced with this perfect equilibrium of your choice of protein, dairy, vegetables and bread. This is the stuff dreams are made of. A good sandwich can fill you up. A great sandwich can turn your day around and put you in a better mood. An epic sandwich? That will change your life in a way you never imagined.

Consuming an epic sandwich means you’ve hit some various criteria: the ideal crunch-to-softness ratio has been achieved, there’s just enough flavouring to your meat or substitute so as to not overpower you, the right combination of salty and sweet has been met in your vegetable additions and somewhere in there, you’ve added in delicious cheese to ooze every where, or bring out the flavours further in your wonderful gastro-experiment.

Case and point, this example from a local Vancouver eatery, Meat and Bread, their slow braised beef brisket with cabbage.

I have consumed many a sandwich in my day, from the ho-hum mystery lunch meat specials, to a solid PBJ (Organic peanut butter and home made jam, of course), to amazing finds on the go in Vancouver and abroad. Thankfully, sandwiches are one way that experimenting with foods and combinations can actually pay off once in a while. Your adventurous nature is often rewarded in the symphony of deliciousness that unfolds with your first bite. I can verify this is a thing. No, seriously, if you’re ever in Florence, head over to i due fratellini, order the cinghiale piccante con caprino and then come back here and tell me I changed your life.

Prosciutto panini
Prosciutto and provolone on a homemade bun, i due frattelini (please note the massive size of this amazing sandiwch).

The fact that someone can even question the greatness that is the sandwich breaks my heart. ‘Breaking bread’ is a time honoured tradition with friends and family, but why bother breaking it in the first place if you don’t intend on piling it high with amazing ingredients, revering it for what it is (the best sit down or on the go food around), and stuffing your face?

 

 

 

Lemon-Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

I first stumbled upon this recipe over at the Foodess blog, and immediately knew I had to make these muffins.

MUFFINS

Lemon and Blueberry are probably my favourite ingredients to bake with, chocolate of course is number one. So, the minute you combine the two in one recipe it’s like cat nip for me. These were made on an intense baking day. My niece had her first school outing, where contributing a baked good was required. Of course, my sister was all over this. She was already elbow-deep into making Martha’s Devil’s Food Cupcakes and Dark Chocolate Ganache frosted cupcakes when I decided to add to our baked goods pool with these scrumptious delights.

Pre-oven

Insanely easy to toss together, and more importantly, soooo good to eat multiples of after. These are now a staple in my arsenal.  No, really, I’ve baked them three times since. Three batches, and seven weeks later, I figure I may as well share them with the rest of the world.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup blueberries

Thankfully, the instructions are dummy-proof.

  1. First off, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together melted butter, sour cream, vanilla, egg, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated. Fold in blueberries.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until golden brown and tops spring back when lightly pressed.

Post-oven

 

Seriously, make a batch, or ten, and thank me later for sharing the goodness. Excuse me while I go stuff my face.