Sunday, January 20, 2013

White Chocolate Strawberry and Lime Cheesecake Bars

Want to be a hero at your next gathering? Make these cheesecake bars. The combo of lime, strawberry, and white chocolate is outstanding. The bars are creamy, slightly tart, really really good, oh, and super easy to make. You don't even have to turn on the oven. Feel free to keep that info to yourself and just bask in the praise and adoration from the lucky recipients of these bars.  Big pay off for minimal effort...pretty perfect!

White Chocolate Strawberry and Lime Cheesecake Bars

For the filling:

6 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Zest of 2 small limes
1 cup thinly sliced strawberries

For the crust:
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

Line 8x8x2-inch square baking pan with foil, extending over all sides. Mix all the crust ingredients together. Press firmly into the prepared pan. Chill for about 15 minutes in the freezer or 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Place the white chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Put your bowl in the microwave and heat for about 1 minute. Stir. (Your chocolate will not look melted until you stir it.) If still lumpy, heat in 15-30 second intervals until it stirs smooth and creamy. Do not overheat or chocolate will burn and be unusable. Set aside while you make the filling.
Beat whipping cream in medium bowl until peaks form, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in the sugar, lime juice, and lime peel, beat until smooth. Beat in the melted white chocolate. Fold in whipped cream in 2 additions. Gently fold in the sliced strawberries. Spread the mixture onto the prepared graham cracker crust. Smooth the top with an off-set spatula or knife. Chill until filling is slightly firm, at least 2 hours. Using the foil, lift cheesecake out of pan. Cut into 9 pieces for large bars. Garnish with chocolate curls and sliced strawberries, if desired.

These cheesecake bars would make the perfect Valentine's dinner dessert!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rice Pudding

I don't know if I've ever shared that I have a deep love for pudding. Not the kind that comes from a box on the Jello aisle and certainly not that goop that's in a cup and requires no refrigeration. *shudder* I'm talking about the real deal. cooked milk and eggs, kind of pudding. That's the kind of pudding that I adore. When I was about five I ate almost an entire bowl that my mom had made for our family of (at that point) five. In my defense, she did say there was pudding in the kitchen and I could have some if I wanted some. As it turned out, I wanted more than she had planned on me eating. Oops. Sorry to the rest of the family...That's one of my earliest pudding eating memories, and me love for it has carried over to adulthood.
My mom is a very skilled pudding maker. She makes all kinds and all are wonderful. She's been know to turn skeptical sons-in-laws into pudding converts. One of my favorites is her rice pudding. I've had many versions of rice pudding but my mom's is still the best one I've ever eaten. It's super easy but does cook for a long time. Trust me it's completely worth the hour and a half cook time. If you think you don't like rice pudding, give this one a try and I'll bet you'll be a convert too.

Rice Pudding
Serves about 6 (or one really hungry pudding lover!)

1/4 cup of rice
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in an 2 quart oven safe bowl or pot. Place into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Stir the pudding after the first 25 minutes, then stir 2-3 more times until the rice is tender and the pudding has a thick, creamy consistency. If you want the skin over the top, do not stir during the last 20 minutes of baking. Allow the pudding to cool. Then refrigerate until cold through.
*I don't like raisins cooked into pudding. For me they plump up too much in the pudding and...yick, not for me. If you like them, then by all means put them in! You can eat the pudding warm, but I think it gets even better if it has a chance to chill down.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pita Bread

This year I plan on trying to become a better bread baker. I'm not much for making New Years resolutions, if you do that's great, but I never found that they are a real force for true change in my life. Goals, yes we all need them but deciding on January 1st to revamp everything is not realistic for me. Plus who needs the added guilt of not living up to something that sounded great on January 1st. Usually by February 1st I realize that I've already failed at 90% of what I'd resolved to do...blah... Anyway if you do make New Years resolutions, then more power to you. I plan on making a lot more bread this year and sharing it here...we'll see how that goes!

If you've every bought pita bread at the grocery store, then you know that it's hit or miss. It can fall anywhere between soft and light to tough and dry. More often than not I found it to be dried out and not very tasty. Pita is a simple bread to make. It's very similar to making pizza dough and just like homemade pizza dough, it tastes fantastic. A couple of months ago my sister convinced me to give making pitas a try. After eating some of her homemade pita, I knew there was no going back to that usually dried out store bought version. These are pillow-y soft and  oh so tasty. They are great for sandwiches, but I really like them cut into triangles served with hummus or bean dip.

Pita Bread
source:The 75th Anniversary Edition of The Joy of Cooking Cookbook 

3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (1 1/2 tbsp) active dry yeast
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/4 cup water, room temp.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and water. Mix together, about one minute. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and elastic. Add flour or water as needed; the dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky. Don't add too much flour or the pitas will not puff well. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it once to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temp until doubled in volume, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Set a rack in the lower level of the oven and place a pizza or baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450°F for 45 minutes. (If you do not have a pizza or baking stone, preheat the oven, place an inverted baking sheet on the rack, and heat the baking sheet for 5 minutes.)

Meanwhile, punch down the dough. Divide equally into 8 pieces, and roll the pieces into balls. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

On a very lightly floured surface, roll out each ball of dough into a thin round, about 6-8 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch think. Place as many dough rounds as will fit without touching each other directly on the hot surface.

 I can only do one at a time on my stone, but they bake so quickly it's not  a problem. Using a spray bottle of water, I lightly spritz the top of the dough rounds. You don't have to do this but I think it helps make the dough puff a little better.  Bake until the dough rounds puff into balloons, about 3 minutes then bake 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Immediately remove the breads to a rack to cool. If you leave the pitas in the oven too long, they will become dry and will not deflate to flat disks. Repeat with the remaining rounds.

Roll the pitas out thin but not so thin that they tear or they won't puff well. I found that if I rolled mine about 6 inches in diameter they puffed better than the larger rounds. There's a little bit of a learning curve on rolling and getting them into the oven. My first one stuck to the pizza peel and came out wonky. By the third one I had it down. I spritzed the pitas with a little water after I put them in the oven. The ones I spritz seemed to puff a little better than the first 2 that I didn't sprtiz. They cook really fast so keep an eye on them.
My first one had a few issues!

Ahhh pita perfection!