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?

 

 

 

The Quarterly Report

Seeing as 2012 has whipped by, I felt it was only right to reflect back on the resolutions for this year I set out back in January. Of course, for this to happen, a recap of sorts must occur (if you’d like the full blown version, you can refer back to the original post). For the sake of expediency, I’ll summarize quickly below.

  1. I blog at least once a week, by the end of 2012.
  2. I travel outside Canada once this year, (2012), for at least a week, job or no job.
  3. I am employed by March 1, 2012.
  4. I bake one item for all family celebrations this year, not repeating recipes.
  5. I improve my decorating and frosting skills by taking a class, or practicing a lot.
  6. I am more kind, and patient in all of my relationships (long-term goal).
  7. I dent my 30 x 30 goal*, in the next 3 years in a big, big way.
  8. I reconcile with “being selfish”- doing things for myself, for no other reason.
  9. I read 50 books by December 31, 2012.
  10. I learn a second language (again): French/Italian, from my school days (long-term).
  11. I get healthier, so as to prolong my life. Activities include: cardio, more yoga, hiking three times a week, to start (long-term goal).

Shamefully, I admit I have not blogged once a week. In fact, I’ve been lucky to get around to it once a month. This will, and should change moving forward. Perhaps it was a lack of inspiration, or write-worthy topics. Either way, this will be amended! Next up, I am pumped to admit that travel plans are in the works, this touches on numbers 2 and 7. Fall 2012 appears to be travel season for this Vancouverite, with a jump across the pond. I’m hoping to visit friends both new and old, one of whom I have been promising to visit since he left Canada in the summer of 2005!

On the employment front, this came to fruition at the end of February, technically 3 days prior to my March 1st prediction. Though my employment was only a temp gig, it got me out and about, with a pretty solid reference to boot. Graciously, they offered to extend my stay, but I had to decline, it’s hard enough trying to find out my path in life, let alone work a job that I know I would out grow in a short time frame.

As for my baking outlook, not too much has warranted my annexing of my kitchen this year. I helped my mom bake a few birthday cakes though, so I suppose that almost counts. I was, however, bequeathed with decorating and frosting duties, both of which I think have vastly improved from my starting position of not knowing anything two short years ago!

Since resolutions 6 and 8 are an on-going process, I cannot comment on any movement. I do feel that I have developed a greater sense of empathy and understanding for the relationships in my life that in the past have proven to be very difficult. If this counts as a positive evolution, I’ll take it.

My 50 Book Pledge has taken a slight back seat since about mid-March. The last book I chose to undertake has been pretty dense, laden with heavy themes. As a result, I’ve stalled at only 9 books thus far, when I should be about 12-14 books in. I’ll catch up, I have faith. I just need to keep plugging through Free World, even if I can only get a chapter in a night. The next 5 books are already lined up and waiting to go.

Resolutions 10 and 11; I’ve started re-learning Italian, in doing so, I realized just how much I missed learning, and how fast I picked it up to begin with. The human mind continues to shock me. As for 11, “getting healthy”, this one has been open to interpretation. I have managed to get myself in a gym 2-3 times a week, interspersed with a lot of walking to and fro around the city. In addition, I have made the conscious effort to make better, healthier food decisions. In my specific situation, healthier in this sense has morphed into less of the physical nature of health and more the mental. Throughout this unemployment process, and job hunt, I suppose I wasn’t aware of how much an emotional toll my body is taking. Mentally, it drains and deflates you, resulting in a sense of complacency. This situation truly came to light in the weeks, when I think I hit that proverbial wall: questioning my choices in life to this point, and questioning my predisposed “plan” for the future. Plans change, and that’s ok. That is perhaps the best advice I’ve received, though processing it has been harder than anticipated. I’m positive I am not the only 25 year old facing this juncture in life, but I am definitely the only 25 year old in my immediate family or extended social circle who is, which makes things a bit more difficult. Somehow, down the line, I misplaced a bit of me (that spark, drive, mojo), and I wasn’t really ready to accept and agree to that observation. It took hearing it from an outsider to have it really hit home. Now, it’s up to me to do some major soul-searching to figure out where my mojo went, or where it lies now.

With that soul-baring statement, I leave you, and hope that you wish me luck in my attempts to find whatever it is I am looking for.

Ponder Me This

Meteora, Greece (2009)

Bear with me as I attempt to make sense of my random thoughts and creative outbursts in this blog. I’ll predominantly blog about food: my favourite dishes; techniques and step-by-step instructions on recipes new and old; as well as some arts and crafts blurbs; travel and travel goals, tips, tricks, aspirations; the occasional guest blog by a friend or two; and most definitely my two or ten cents on the world of hockey. (I’m Canadian, hockey is a religion, not an option).

The notion of a blog was first proposed to me by my sister about six months ago, I kept putting it off, thinking it was too savvy, hi-tech or too time-demanding for me to keep up with. Then, as life so often does, it threw a curveball. I found myself re-assessing my goals and life direction, with a lot more time on my hands. Her original proposal was to get back to something I was passionate about: writing and sports. Or, more specifically, writing about sports. So, without further ado, let’s get my bias’ out of the way- I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan. That does not mean I am incapable of being impartial in my peanut gallery commentary, it just means I’ll stick up for the home team more often than not. Hockey is not my sole sports obsession, either. I regularly follow football (Arsenal); American football (Patriots); baseball (Red Sox) and basketball (Mavericks). To ensure you are able to grasp my love for hockey, I should inform you I am currently writing this blog post during national anthems, and TV time-outs during the Canucks game at the moment. Now that’s what I call bad ass.

Needless to say, my sister’s encouragement back in the spring did not lead to this blog manifesting any sooner than today. The final push was the urging of a few friends, who, after sampling my cooking prowess encouraged me to post recipes and dishes for them to sample. Kind of like a virtual dinner party. I figure, hey, it’s December, I’ll be cooking, baking, and basically committing delicious gluttony all month long, why not write about it? I firmly and adamantly believe that food can unite people, and that people who cook and feed others are probably the most generous, candid and best people on earth. (Not to mention, their kitchen dancing skills are amazing).

I hope to post something twice a week, so, for those friends of mine reading this- don’t be afraid to give me a kick in the pants about it from time to time.

I leave you today with a sneak peek Christmas baking line-up for 2011, and what you (and my local friends) get to look forward to:
– Chocolate Chip Cookies
– Sugar Cookies
– Mocha Bites
– Checkerboard Cookies
– Lemon Wreaths
– Ginger Sisters
– Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie
– Raspberry Cheesecake
– Tiramisu

xo,
Meera