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RECIPE: Super-Easy Brownie Cheesecake

Brownie Cheesecake

Blondies

Cheesecake With Lemon Curd

[1] Top any cheesecake with brownie cubes and drizzle with caramel sauce (photo courtesy iGourmet). [2] Want cake without all the chocolate? Go for blondies instead (photo courtesy Valrhona). [3] Key lime or lemon bars also do the trick, although more jiggly than brownies and blondies (photo courtesy Baking Obsession).

 

If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake from scratch, the easiest specialty cheesecake starts with a purchased cheesecake base.

In the case of this Brownie Caramel Cheesecake (photo #1), you can purchase the brownies, too; or make a quick batch from a mix.

RECIPE: BROWNIE CARAMEL CHEESECAKE

Ingredients

  • 1 cheesecake
  • Brownies to taste (top the cake with as many or as few cubes as you like)
  • Caramel sauce
  •  
    Topping Variations

  • Blondies (blonde brownies—photo #2) with chocolate sauce
  • Linzer shortbread bars with raspberry sauce
  • Pecan pie bars with chocolate sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUBE the brownies/bars. Place as desired atop the cheesecake. We made concentric circles and covered the whole top.

    2. WARM the sauce as needed to drizzling consistency, and drizzle over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
     
    OTHER CHEESECAKE TOPPINGS

    Fruit Curds

    Spread the top of the cheesecake with fruit curd (photo #3).

    Commonly available choices are cranberry, Key lime, lemon, orange or passionfruit.

    It’s easy to make fruit curd from scratch; but it takes a bit of time and clean-up.
     
    Cookies & Candy

  • Cookies: Top with gingersnaps, Oreos or other favorite cookies. Place them flat or standing up around the rim.
  • Candy: The celebrant’s candy of choice will look great atop the cake. After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins, chocolate bark, M&Ms, mini peanut butter cups, pecan pralines, smashed toffee, etc.
  •  
    For fruit curd, cookies or candy, no sauce is necessary. Instead, you can serve the cake with an optional dab of whipped cream.
     
    There are many other ways to dress up a store-bought cheesecake, from pie filling to shaved chocolate.

    We love a cheesecake iced with chocolate ganache.

    Here’s a tip on top of that:

     
    THE GRIMBLETORTE: GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE COVERED IN GANACHE

    Long before there were “foodies,”* those who a decade later would bear the mantle sought out the famous Grimbletorte.

    This spectacular cheesecake from Miss Grimble’s, one of the early gourmet cheesecake bakers in New York City. Its point of differentiation was simple: liqueur in the batter and ganache on the top and sides.

    Miss Grimble (Sylvia Balser Hirsch, 2019-2006) sold the business around 1989 and retired. The subsequent owner discontinued the Grimbletorte.

    Here’s more about the original Miss Grimble.

    To approximate the Grimbletorte:

  • If baking a New York-style cream cheese cheesecake from scratch (2 pounds cream cheese, 5 jumbo eggs), add 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur to the cheesecake batter.
  • If you have a ready-made cake, you can still get a bit of the flavor. Brush the cake with the liqueur before adding the ganache.
  • In theory, you can add the liqueur to the ganache, but we’ve always loved the great chocolate flavor against the orange-accented cheesecake.
  •  
    Mrs. Hirsch’s cake decorators wrote “Grimbletorte” across the top of the iced cheesecake, also in ganache. Proust may keep his madeleines; we want our Grimbletorte.

    ________________

    *What’s the difference between a foodie, connoisseur, gourmet, gourmand, gastronome, epicure and glutton? Check it out.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 3-D Animal Crackers

    If you like to bake cookies, try your hand at something different: 3-D cookies.

    They’re sold by a British novelty products company called Suck UK (why ask why?), and available on Amazon.

    The zoo animal cookie cutter set contains a mother and baby. Each set has four cutters: two bodies and two pairs of legs, large (mom) and small (baby).

    Cut out the cookie dough, bake, then slot the pieces together. The larger cookie is 7″ tall by 4.5″ wide. Instructions are included.

    For Valentine’s Day, you can affix a candy heart with icing.

  • Elephant
  • Giraffe*
  • Hippo
  • Lion
  •  
    NOTE: For those who pay close attention, we know that these are not 3-D cookies, but 2-D (flat) cookies that stand up. But that’s what the manufacturer calls them, and no one has called them on it.
    ________________

    *We couldn’t find the giraffe on Amazon, but found it on another site, a bit more expensive.

     
    THE HISTORY OF ANIMAL CRACKERS

    Americans grow up on animal crackers. But the concept actually originated in England in the late 1800s, as animal biscuits (the British term for cookies).

    In 1889, when P.T. Barnum toured England with his circus, several manufacturers took advantage of the marketing opportunity and named their animal biscuits “Barnum’s.”

    The animal biscuits were exported to America, inspiring local bakeries to make their own.

    The National Biscuit Co. (today, Nabisco), introduced theirs in 1902 as “Barnum’s Animals” (they added the word “Crackers” in 1948).

    The “circus car” box with the string handle was introduced later in the year, as a Christmas tree ornament for Christmas 1902.

    (Neither P.T. Barnum nor the Barnum & Bailey Circus ever got a cent in licensing fees from any “Barnum’s” crackers or biscuits. Where were their lawyers?)

       

    Giraffe Cookie Cutter

    Elephant Cookie

    Hippo Cookie Cutter

    [1] Giraffe, [2] elephant, [3] and the hippo cookie cutters (photos courtesy Suck UK).

     

    Homemade Animal Crackers

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    [4] Even if you don’t want to take on 3-D cookies, you can make better-tasting animal crackers with this recipe from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen. [5] and [6] Use a toothpick or other implement to make designs in plain cookies (photos courtesy Chicago Metallic).

     

    RECIPE: ANIMAL CRACKERS

    If you have an animal cookie cutter hanging around, here’s a recipe for that animal cracker taste, from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

    They used a set of plunger animal cookie cutters that create the marks on the cookies. Those cookie cutters are no longer available, but we found something similar on Amazon. Alternatively, you can:

  • Make the grooves with a toothpick, ice pick or other utensil.
  • Leave the cookies plain.
  •  
    Prep time is 45 minutes, cook time is 16 minutes. You can make the dough up to two days in advance.

    Ingredients For 20† Cookies

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon mace
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ________________

    †The number of cookies will vary based on your cookie cutter size.
    ________________

    Preparation

    1. SIFT together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and mace over a small bowl. Set aside.

    2. FIT an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater and beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

    3. STOP the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been incorporated. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

     
    4. TURN the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. When ready to bake…

    5. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. Place each dough disk between 2 clean, large pieces of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. (If the dough cracks while rolling, let it stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes more.) Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour.

    6. LINE several baking sheets with parchment paper. Dip the cookie cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. With plunger cookie cutters: Hold each cutter over a prepared baking sheet and lightly depress the plunger to remove the cutout; the plunger will also imprint the tops of the cookies. With regular cookie cutters: Place the cut-out shapes on the baking sheet one at a time and decorate as desired with a toothpick.

    7. FREEZE the baking sheets for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Gather up the scraps, reroll and cut out more cookies.

    8. BAKE the cookies until very light golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Leftover Steak For Breakfast & The History Of The Doggie Bag

    When life gives you leftover steak, make steak and grits. That’s what we did when we happily brought home a doggie bag from a midtown steakhouse Friday night.

    The next morning the leftovers became part of breakfast (or brunch*, if you prefer).

    You can make steak and eggs, of course; but we don’t have grits often enough. And there’s no reason why you can’t combine all three, as in photo #3.

    We were inspired by this photo from Publican Quality Meats of Chicago to recreate a version of their recipe with mushrooms, radicchio and parmesan cheese (photo #1). You can go as plain or fancy as you like.

    RECIPE: STEAK & GRITS

    The ingredients can be cooked up to two days in advance, then assembled and heated. This is especially great news for those who demand the best, creamiest grits, which can take 90 minutes cooking time.

  • These can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled to room temperature, then covered and refrigerated. To reheat, break the congealed grits into pieces and whisk in enough boiling water to loosen (up to about 1 cup). Heat over low heat, stirring constantly.
  • If you’re cooking steak from scratch, you can cook it the day before, and slice prior to warming and serving. Undercook it, since it will cook a bit more when you heat it.
  •  
    Ingredients

  • Grits of choice (Anson Mills heirloom grits are the best)
  • Optional: for cheese grits, grated cheese of choice
  • Mushrooms, cleaned (we like a mix of wild mushrooms)
  • Radicchio, julienned
  • Butter or oil for sautéing
  • Steak, cooked
  • Optional garnish: shaved parmesan
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COOK the grits per the package instructions. While the grits are cooking…

    2. SLICE the steak and place it in a microwave-safe dish.

    3. SAUTÉ the radicchio and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes. When ready, warm the steak in the microwave.

    4. SPOON the grits onto plates and arrange the sliced steak, radicchio and mushrooms. Garnish as desired with freshly-shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve with a peppermill.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF THE DOGGIE BAG

    Since Elizabethan times at least, taverns and public houses provided extra-large napkins—not only because people ate with their hands, but they used them to wrap up and take home any leftovers.

    Long before then, well-to-do ancients were accustomed to bringing napkins when invited to dinner, initially to clean one’s hands and mouth. Hosts provided the food, but not the linens. Around the 6th century B.C.E., they started using their napkins to wrap leftovers to take home (here’s the history of the napkin).

    It was also common practice to distribute leftovers to vassals, slaves and servants; and since there was no refrigeration, remnants went to dogs and pigs.

    In postwar times (that’s post-World War II), customers of steak houses would ask to take home the meaty leftovers, “for the dog.” (For those with no dog, it became a decorous way of taking the food home, for people accustomed to the frugal practices of wartime rationing.) There are different claims to the origin of the doggie bag:

    In 1949, Al Meister, owner of Bagcraft Papercon, a Chicago-based packaging company, developed a coated paper bag that was grease-resistant. He is credited with inventing the “doggie bag”—and the take-out bag, for that matter. See the footnote† below for other references.

    Grease-resistant bags soon evolved into foil-lined bags with drawings of Fido—a way to explain why nice people were leaving the restaurant with paper bags.

    Yet elsewhere, many people were criticized by embarrassed family and friends with whom they dined, who felt it was in poor taste. According to one article, well into the 1970s etiquette columns in newspapers got letters asking if it was O.K. to ask for a doggie bag if they didn’t have a dog.

     

    Steak & Grits

    Steak and Grits

    Steak, Eggs & Grits

    Steak & Grits

    Doggie Bag

    [1] Turn leftover steak into steak and grits, here topped with radicchio (photo courtesy Publican Quality Meats| Chicago). [2] Stretch leftover steak by adding vegetables (here’s the recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen). [3] Have it all: steak, grits and eggs, plus some greens (here’s the recipe from Framed Cooks). [4] A peppery approach: bacon-wrapped steak, pepperjack grits and a jalapeño garnish (here’s the recipe from Erica’s Recipes). [5] Turn that leftover steak into steak and grits for breakfast or brunch (photo courtesy Disposable Plastic Wear).

     
    With the exception of Elizabeth Post, Emily Post’s granddaughter by marriage, advice columnists invariably approved of doggie bags as “sensible if not downright virtuous.”

    That remands on trend. No one wants to throw out good food, including the restaurants. (Seattle has even enacted laws to create less kitchen food waste.)

    So no matter how large or small the amount of leftover food, don’t hesitate ask for it. If not, you’ll wake up the next day, sorry you didn’t take it home.

    ________________

    *Breakfast is the first meal of the day, lunch is the second meal, after breakfast. “Brunch” evolved as a weekend meal for later risers, who combined the two meals. Brunch is typically eaten during the late morning or early afternoon and can include both conventional breakfast items (eggs, pancakes) and lunch items (frittatas, starts, quiche, soup and salad, panini or other lighter fare). The other benefit of brunch over breakfast: cocktails with juice (Bellini, Bloody Mary, Mimosa, etc.)

    †Sources vary as to the origin of the term:

    >According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 113): “Although leftovers have long been packed up for customers, the term ‘doggie bag’ dates in print to 1963. Two claims have been made for the idea under that name, Lawry’s Prime Rib, a Los Angeles restaurant that dates it usage back to the 1930s, and the Old Homestead Steak House in New York City, whose owner, Harry Sherry, also began to use the term in the 1930s.”

    >According to Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2nd edition, 2007 (p. 253), notes that the doggy bag (or doggie bag) presumed the dog to be the beneficiary of the contents. A 1943 print reference notes that in San Francisco and Seattle, a bag called the Pet Packit was used to take home leftovers.

    >Restaurants in San Francisco and Seattle started to providing waxed paper bags for customers to take home leftovers “for the dog”; the custom rolled out nationwide.

    >Yet another claim says that the doggie bag was born in 1949 at Dan Stampler’s Steak Joint on Greenwich Avenue in New York City. Their grease-proof doggie bags bore an image of the proprietor’s Scottish terrier. They were manufactured by Bagcraft Corporation of Chicago, which sold them to other restaurants as well. Subsequently, the wife of the co-founder of Bagcraft, Jane Meister, wrote a poem that appeared on the bags: “Oh where, oh where have your leftovers gone? / Oh where, oh where can they be? / If you’ve had all you can possibly eat,/ Please bring the rest home to me!!”

    For more information see the article in Smithsonian Magazine.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pho & Ramen Breakfast…Or Perhaps Some Miso Soup?

    Asians drink soup for breakfast: Japanese miso soup and Thai pho, for example. Americans looking for something quick, hot, nutritious and comforting should consider the option.

    Both can be packed with vegetables, and carried in a travel mug or thermos.

    Your soup supply can also be part of a low-calorie, healthful lunch or snack.

    EASY BREAKFAST MISO SOUP

    Miso soup for breakfast? Sure: That’s how millions of Japanese people start the day.

    All you need to make a bowl of miso soup is hot water and a spoonful of miso paste, available in many supermarkets as well as in Asian food stores. Seriously, it’s as easy as instant coffee.

    You can have it plain, add tofu cubes as served at Japanese restaurants, or add vegetables of choice, as shown in this video.

    The tofu can be cubed in advance; in fact, the whole soup can be made in advance and microwaved in a minute, which is especially convenient if you want your soup with cooked veggies.

    There are also instant versions in packets with freeze-dried tofu cubes, which just require water and heating.

    We were heartbroken when Pacific Organics discontinued their terrific pho soup base. It was so easy to whip up a delicious, nutritious noodle and egg soup that can be served for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner.

    Pho is one of our favorite foods in the world, especially when the broth is cooked for days to extract amazing layers of flavor (go to a Vietnamese restaurant that makes it from scratch, not from a commercial base. It may be one of your life’s memorable food moments.)

    Since then, we’ve discovered Nona Lim’s flavorful broths: pho, miso ramen and spicy Szechuan.

    All can be drunk straight or enhanced with noodles, eggs and vegetables. You can add meat for a hearty lunch or dinner dish, and top it with fresh herbs for color and more flavor.

    Savory Choice, which for years has been our go-to chicken broth base, now makes pho concentrate packets in beef, chicken and vegetable.

    You can also find powdered concentrates in Asian food stores and online.

    So what’s stopping you from making a delicious Asian breakfast?

    RECIPE: PHO & RAMEN BREAKFAST

    Ingredients For 4 To 6 Servings

  • 12 ounces Nona Lim plus one cup water or other equivalent* pho broth (substitute Szechuan broth or miso soup)
  • 5 ounces ramen (one packet)
  • 1 head bok choy or ½ head chard or kale, sliced into ½” ribbons
  • 3 green onions/scallions, green and white parts, chopped roughly
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped roughly (substitute basil, chervil, mint or parsley)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD water to the the broth concentrate per package directions, then heat. When it boils, add noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes.

    2. ADD the greens and scallions and simmer for another 3-5 minutes, until the greens are bright and tender but still have texture.

    TIP: If you have wilting veggies in your crisper, or a piece of uncooked chicken or fish that needs to be used, this is a perfect way to use them up. Just shred/slice and toss ‘em in!)

    3. BRING a small pot of water to a boil, then add the eggs and simmer for 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Remove from water and place in an ice bath; peel when cool.

    4. LADLE out bowls of noodles and broth, adding a handful of fresh herbs and a halved egg to each.
    ________________

    *The Nona Lim package plus the water equals 16 ounces of broth.

     

    Ramen - Egg Soup

    Nona Lim Pho Broth

    Savory Choice Beef Pho

    Kikkoman Instant Tofu Miso Soup

    [1] A delicious Asian breakfast, this soup triple-tasks for lunch and dinner. [2] Ready to heat: Nona Lim’s pho base (photo courtesy Good Eggs). [3] We alternate using both Nona Lim and Savory Choice concentrate packets (photo courtesy Grub Market). [4] A quick substitute: instant miso soup packets. There is also a version with tofu and spinach (photo courtesy Kikkoman).

     

      

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    RECIPE: Sweet Green Juice For National Green Juice Day

    National Green Juice Day

    A sweet and green juice blend from Juicing Connection.

     

    January 26th is National Green Juice Day.

    Not everyone is a fan of blending kale and spinach, so here’s a green juice that takes a different direction: sweet and minty.

    Ingredients Per 8-Ounce Serving

  • 1 10-ounce cucumber
  • 2 cups chopped mint, loosely packed
  • 1/2 lime, freshly juiced
  • 1 apple
  • Optional garnish: cucumber spear
  • Optional: a splash of tequila, rum or vodka
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the ingredients in a blender and blend to the desired consistency.
     
     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUCUMBERS.

     
    The Juicing Connection, which provided this recipe, wants you to know that this recipe has lots of:

  • Vitamin C, required for: Immunity, heart and cardiovascular health, development of sex hormones, stress management, health and repair of skin and effective wound healing.
  • Vitamin K, required for bone building and repair, teeth, blood circulation (fewer bruises), muscle cramps, varicose veins and blood clotting (it can also prevent heavy menstrual bleeding).
  •  
    One portion contains 38% DV of vitamin C and 66% DV of vitamin K, plus 31% DV of fiber.
     
      

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