Sunday, February 22, 2009

For the Love of Food: Part 3

I feel strongly that no celebration is complete without cheesecake. Cheesecake is a celebration in a springform pan.

I've got plenty of trusty, tasty cheesecake recipes, but I decided to try a new one for Valentine's Day: gingersnap pear cheesecake. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here, at Real Simple. But let me save you the trouble: This cheesecake was just "eh." Don't get me wrong -- no cheesecake is bad cheesecake. But this one was better in theory than in execution.

The recipe was pretty simple. For the crust, you replace graham cracker crumbs with crushed gingersnaps. After the crust is set, you thinly slice pears, toss them with ginger, and layer them. Then you pour in a pretty basic cheesecake batter and bake. After about 50 minutes, you pull the whole thing out of the oven, top it with a little sour cream sweetened with sugar, and give it another eight minutes or so.

The pears sounded like a great idea, but they just kind of got mushy and didn't really add much flavor. The sour cream was interesting, but would separate from the cream cheese part of the cake when you stuck your fork into a piece, which was a little weird. And the gingersnaps were just too crunchy.

In spite of these flaws, I managed to eat several large slices. I know, I know. I'm a real trouper.

The food: Gingersnap pear cheesecake
The verdict: Not the best cheesecake I've ever had, but I never met a cheesecake I didn't like

Saturday, February 21, 2009

For the Love of Food: Part 2

So, after the Valentine's Day blintzes, I started in on the next meal: orange chicken. I first made this when Allie and I were living together. For Christmas one year, our mom gave her a Top Secret Recipes book and we started cooking our way through it. Some of them were ridiculous (come on, a two-hour process just to make your own Twinkies??) but most of them we liked.

The orange chicken recipe was a clone from Panda Express. I've never been there, so I can't vouch for accuracy, but I can vouch for tastiness.

Let me also say that this recipe takes approximately six years to make, on account of having to hand-bread every little tiny piece of chicken. Perseverance is key.

Orange Chicken
(With thanks to Top Secret Recipe's Todd Wilbur, who thanks the fine folks at Panda Express)

  • 1.5 c water
  • Juice from one orange
  • A little orange zest, if you're feeling really wacky
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c rice vinegar
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 1/4 c lemon juice
  • A few tablespoons minced water chestnuts
  • 1/2 t minced ginger
  • Two cloves garlic, minced
  • A handful of chopped green onion
  • A sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 7 t cornstarch

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 c ice water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c self-rising flour (although I've made it with all-purpose flour, too)
  • 1/4 salt
Start by combining all sauce ingredients (except cornstarch) in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring often. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow to cool.

Next, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Marinate with one cup of the sauce. Refrigerate for a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil and grease lightly.

In a bowl, beat eggs and add ice water. In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Bread chicken, dipping in flour, egg mixture, and then flour again. Your fingers will become very sticky and disgusting. This is a labor of love. Place pieces on cookie sheet.

Bake the chicken 4-6 minutes. Then broil on high for an additional 2-3 minutes.

While the chicken bakes, add 3 T of water to the 7 t cornstarch. Heat the sauce over high heat, then mix in the cornstarch to thicken.

Serve chicken and sauce over rice.

The food: Orange chicken
The verdict: Yummy, but takeout would be simpler

NEXT POST, tune in for the exciting conclusion to the Valentine's Day meal!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

For the Love of Food: Part 1

Valentine's Day -- it's a day about love. This year, I took Feb. 14 as an opportunity to reaffirm my love of food.

I started off the day with some cheese blintzes. Talk about love. I LOVE cheese blintzes. However, I haven't found a restaurant around here that serves them and Harris Teeter carries them in the freezer section, but frozen just isn't the same and they never go on sale. (I rarely buy "fun food" if it isn't on sale.) So I decided to make my own.

A cheese blintz is a crepe rolled around sweetened cheese filling and served with fruit or sour cream. I've made crepes before but I've never been too good at it. This was not my turning point. I botched the first two completely and by the ninth one, I was able to at least get them off the pan but they were all misshapen -- more abstract than round. Think Jackson Pollock meets breakfast.

My other problem is that the filling turned out a bit runny and spilled out of the crepes when wrapped. To assemble a blintz, you cook the crepe, let it cool, put a dollop of filling on it, then roll it up (kind of like you'd roll a burrito) and fry it.

At this point I must disclose that the problems were likely of my own making: I didn't follow the recipe exactly. There were several points at which things were supposed to chill for minutes our hours and those were the points at which I said, "Eh, whatever." I was hungry for breakfast. Ben was hungry for breakfast. All the chilling seemed unnecessary.

I also used a recipe from the magazine Cooking Light. Had the filling been a full-fat version, it might have stayed put better. I think next time I'll try the recipe from The Joy of Cooking.

Despite the drippy filling and the odd-shaped crepes, the blintzes were, as the French would say, "ooh la yummy!"

The food: Cheese blintzes
The verdict: Tough to make, easy to eat

NEXT POST, tune in for more Valentine's Day food tales.