Passover Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

It’s Passover season again. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I like the seder service, the story of escape and freedom, and gathering around a table with friends and family sharing in a centuries-long tradition. What I don’t like is the dessert options! Traditionally, Passover desserts are a major let down. While I like macaroons, I get sick of them during the weeklong holiday.

But pastry chef’s have really upped the ante in the past few years and have created some really excellent Passover dessert recipes. I found this Bon Appetit recipe for a chocolate tort with berry coulis (I actually replace the blackberry coulis with a raspberry sauce) a few years ago and it has been a major hit around the seder table.

Then last year my boyfriend’s Mom gave me a cookbook called Passover by Design by Susie Fishbein. In it I found this amazing recipe for Passover chocolate chip cheesecake. The crust is made with ground up chocolate macaroons (I use Manischewitz brand), which is just brilliant! You probably can use this crust for any of your favorite tarts or pies in order to make is Pesach appropriate. Chocolate chip and regular macaroons would probably also make a great crust. This recipe is also perfect if you are gluten-free, year round.

Ingredients:

Nonstick cooking spray
1 (10-ounce) can chocolate macaroons (about 28 small macaroons)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 (8-ounce) bars cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (not fat-free, reduced fat is fine though)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1.    Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2.    Spray a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

3.    Place the macaroons into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until it forms crumbs. Transfer to a medium bowl. Mix in the melted butter. Press the crumbs into the prepared pan. Set aside.

4.    In the bowl of a stand mixer (can also use a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about 1 ½ minutes. Add the sugar and eggs, beating until smooth. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

5.    Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter onto the prepared crust.

6.    Bake on the center rack, uncovered, for 1 hour. Turn over off and leave the cake in the oven for an additional oven. Remove from oven and cool completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until ready to serve.

7.    Run a small knife or metal spatula around rim of the cake to loosen it. Release the sides of the springform pan.

Makes 12 servings

A Taste of Southern Florida

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to take a week long vacation in Southern Florida (Boca Raton, Key West, and Miami to be exact). This vacation couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just had a jam-packed month at work and the cold, long winter weather was beginning to take it’s wear on me. Having a chance to get out in to the sunshine, wear shorts, spend time with my boyfriend, and eat some delicious, eclectic food was wonderful!

Instead of writing up reviews of the many restaurants we visited, I thought it would be best for you to see some of the best dishes of the trip. We certainly were living La Vida Loca!

Soul Mama Seafood Soup at Nine One Five

Shredded garlic chicken at Uncle Tai's

Warm Figs Brulee Salad at Bin18

Stone crabs from Joe's Stone Crab

Pan con Bistec at Ola

Key lime pie at The Fish House

Cuban food from Ana's Cuban Cafe

Cocktails at Ola

Lasagnette at Michael's Genuine

Best dish of the trip! Snapper with an avocado mash and a whole lotta goodness from Louie's Backyard

* Nine One Five- 915 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040 305-296-0669

* Uncle Tai’s- 5250 Town Center Circle Boca Raton, FL 33486 561-368-8806

*Bin18- 1800 Biscane Blvd., Miami, FL 33132 786-235-7575

*Joe’s Stone Crab- 11 Washington Avenue Miami, FL 33139 800-780-CRAB

*Ola- 1745 James Street Miami Beach, FL 33139 305-695-9125

*The Fish House- 102401 Overseas Highway Key Largo, FL 33037 305-451-HOOK

*Ana’s Cuba Cafe- 1222 White Street, Key West, FL 33040 305-296-4707

*Michael’s Genuine-  130 Northeast 40th Street Miami, FL 33137 305-573-5550

*Louie’s Backyard- 700 Waddell Ave., Key West, FL 305-294-1061

Dining Out for Life 2011

March 10th marks the 15th annual Capitol Area Dining Out for Life. This is a wonderful one-day event where area restaurants pledge to contribute anywhere from 100%-25% of their nightly earnings to Food and Friends.

Food and Friends is one of my favorite local organizations. It is the only organization in the Washington Metropolitan area that provides home-delivered meals, groceries, and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses free of charge.

Some wonderful restaurants are involved in this year’s event including Posto (donating 100%), Bistro du Coin (50%), Dino (35%), Bistro La Bonne (35%), BlackSalt (25%), Hank’s Oyster Bar (25%), Ray’s the Classics (25%), Urbana (25%), and Firefly (25%).

Last year my girlfriends and I had a great Dining Out For Life dinner at Commonwealth (RIP!). We even ran into a Member of Congress and his entire staff (hint, hint Capitol Hill…while you’re avoiding a government shutdown, do some good for the DC community.)

So make a reservation, grab a group, enjoy some delicious food, and donate to a very worthy cause!

P.S. Food and Friends are still looking for volunteers to work as Restaurant Ambassadors on March 10th. If you are interested go here.

Central….To Go!

You’ve had a long day at work. When the lunch bell rings you in no way, shape, or form want another boring chopped salad or the frozen solid “emergency” Lean Cuisine you keep in the office fridge.  What you would really like is a bucket of chicken and all the appropriate sides, but you couldn’t bear the thought of going the fast food route.

Instead head over to Central, one of the most popular restaurants in D.C. The more casual yet stylized bistro of James Beard Award winning chef Michel Richard just launched a gourmet take-out menu. One of the highlights is Michel’s Fried Chicken Bucket. For $29.95 you get six pieces (three breasts and three thighs) of deliciously fried chicken, along with 10 chicken nuggets, Central’s house-made Dijonnaisse sauce and an order of mashed potatoes. Now THAT is finger lickin’ good.

Also on the menu you can find Chef Richard’s famous cheeseburger, a goat cheese Caesar salad, crab cake sandwich, Brussel sprouts with bacon, and the to-die-for chocolate bar.

Photo by Len Depas

Central is one of my favorite restaurants in D.C. This is likely the closest I’ll ever get to having Chef Richard cooking in my teeny, tiny kitchen….but for now this is good enough for me!

The Take-Out menu is available at Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm. Carry-out available Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm and Dinner Monday-Saturday 5:30pm-10:30pm. Call 202-626-0015

Photo by Moshe Zusman

White House State Dinner with China

Tonight the White House held their third State Dinner, honoring China’s President Hu Jintao. Despite a controversial visit filled with a day of tough talks, President and First Lady Obama (in Alexander McQueen!) spiffed up for a night of food, music, and dignitaries.

Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Joining His Excellency Jintao were 200 guests including two former U.S. Presidents (Carter and Clinton), fashion designer Vera Wang, reporter Christiane Amanpour, actor Jackie Chan, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, cellist Yo Yo Ma (“Yo-Yo Ma Rules!”), and Queen of Amazingness Barbra Streisand.

For the past two State Dinners, the Obamas brought in guest chefs and celebrated the cuisine of the country being honored, mixed with American ingredients. This time the First Couple decided to keep the cooking in-house with the extremely capable White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and White House Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses. And instead of opting for Asian flavors they highlighted the classic American meal: steak, potatoes, and apple pie! The full menu is below:

D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese, Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic

Poached Maine Lobster with Orange Glazed Carrots and Black Trumpet Mushrooms

Lemon Sorbet

Dry-Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions, Double Stuffed Potatoes, and Creamed Spinach

Old Fashioned Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream

Just like in past State Dinners, ingredients from the White House garden were used, along with vegetables from the Huron, OH-based The Chef’s Garden. Wine pairings from American-vineyards were also served.

Table setting in the Red Room. The Red, Blue, and State Dining Rooms were used. Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

After dinner, attendees will enjoy a musical performance from Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, and other musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

The official program for the State Dinner can be found here.

The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook

A few months ago my friend Dede Lahman and her husband Chef Neil Kleinberg came out with a fabulous cookbook revealing all the secrets of their New York award-winning restaurant, The Clinton St. Baking Company. If you haven’t made a trip to the Clinton St. Baking Company, it’s certainly worth putting on your list

Photo courtesy of Dennis Yang

the next time you are in New York City. CSBC is the perfect neighborhood restaurant. It specializes in food that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and is fully equipped with a comfortable environment and friendly staff. Numerous magazines and newspapers have touted their pancakes, biscuits, and brunch specials.

And now with their new cookbook and you can try to recreate the magic in your own kitchen. I have been a part of this cookbook from the beginning. Dede, an old camp friend of mine, reached out to my Mom and me and asked us to test some recipes. The whole process was a lot of fun (I tested the scones and my Mom tested the frittata) and the finished product is beautiful. The book has lots of pictures and stories behind each of the recipes, told in Dede’s unique voice. This is a must-have addition to any cook’s library.

Below you will find two of my favorite recipes from the cookbook so far. Clinton St. Baking Company is known for their fluffy pancakes. After seeing the recipe I finally realized what their secret is—separating the eggs and then whipping the

Photo courtesy of Clinton St. Baking Company

egg whites until they form soft peaks. These are then folded in, allowing the pancakes to almost have small soufflé-like spots. Incredible! The smoked salmon scramble is a great, quick weekend treat. You can either serve it as I describe below or pile it high on a bagel. Either way is delicious! Try out these recipes on your next lazy Sunday.

Clinton St. Baking Company Pancakes

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder, plus 1 teaspoon
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
2 cups whole milk
¼ cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 teaspoons unmelted for the griddle
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup of cinnamon sugar for dusting (if desired)

1.    Measure and sift all the dry ingredients into a large (preferably stainless-steel) mixing bowl: flour, baking powder, sugar, salt.
2.    In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, milk, melted butter, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture. The result should be slightly lumpy, yet combined to form a batter.
3.    Whip the egg whites in a medium mixing bowl until they reach medium peaks (soft in the middle). You can either whip them by hand with a whisk, or put them in the bowl of an electric mixer to whip. Be careful, you don’t want to over-whip the egg whites.
4.    Gently mix half of the whipped whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula.  Then gently fold the remaining half into the batter. Remember: this batter should be slightly lumpy and have large parts of egg whites not fully incorporated. It should look like white caps in the ocean with foam on top. This batter will last a few hours in the fridge without deflating too much.
5.    Heat a griddle—either an electric griddle, a stovetop griddle, or a big flat pan to 350˚ to 375˚. Grease the hot griddle with the remaining butter. Drop ¼ cup (approximately 4 tablespoons) of pancake batter on the griddle and cook to set. (If you want add 1 tablespoon blueberries, chocolate chips, or other toppings before turning the pancakes. Never add the fruit to the mix; always add the fruit to the pancakes once they’re on the griddle). When you see bubbles start to form on top, lift the pancake halfway up to see if it’s golden brown and crispy on the edges. If ready, flip the pancakes.
6.    When the pancake is golden brown on both sides, remove with a spatula. Repeat with the remaining batter, cooking several pancakes at a time. Garnish with cinnamon sugar and serve with warm syrup.

Makes 18-20 3-inch pancakes.

Clinton St. Baking Company’s Smoked Salmon Scramble

4 slices of seven-grain (or multi-grain) bread
8 large eggs
Pinch of ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 slices (8 ounces) smoked salmon, Nova or Scottish (coarsely chopped in to bite-sized pieces)
6 Tablespoons cream cheese softened (Philadelphia preferred, not whipped)
½ cup minced scallions (green and white parts)
½ cup minced fresh chives

1.    Toast the bread, according to preference.
2.    Whisk together the eggs and pepper in a bowl until combined.
3.    In a 9 to 10 inch omelet pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is frothy, add the eggs. Gently scramble them in a circular motion with a heatproof spatula, starting from the center of the pan and moving outward. Shake the pan to distribute the uncooked eggs. Once the eggs begin to set, add the salmon, breaking it up with your spatula and distributing it throughout the egg mixture. Add the cream cheese, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to lightly scramble the eggs so that the ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the scallions and remove the eggs from the heat.
4.    For each plate, serve the eggs with a slice of toast, sliced again on the diagonal. Sprinkle chives on top of the eggs.

Pasta Vongole

Growing up I would spend Christmas Eve with my good friend Anne-Marie and her big Italian Catholic family. It is one of my fondest childhood holiday memories. Anne-Marie’s family was big, loud, and boisterous…and they welcomed me in as if I was one of their own. They included me in all their Christmas Eve activities and even had a present for me under the tree. I never felt like a lonely Jew at Christmas.

And best of all was their Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast. Anne-Marie’s dad was a lobsterman and so we had a real bounty of seafood. I remember endless amounts of food coming out of the kitchen—all types of seafood: breaded cod, shrimp cocktail, calamari, pasta with clams, and best of all, pasta with a fiery red lobster sauce. It was incredible!!! All we did was eat, drink, talk, and laugh.

Now that I am an adult and I typically spend Christmas Eve in a more low-key fashion I miss the yearly celebration with my adopted Italian family. This year I decided to hold my own Feast of the Seven Fishes….only since I was dining alone, I had to cut it down to one fish. Pasta Vongole (or pasta with clams) is a recent obsession. Lately, if I see it on an Italian menu I tend to order it. One of my favorite versions can be found at Il Panino in Boston’s North End. But the version below is quite delicious and easy to make any time of year.

Pasta Vongole

1 pound spaghetti
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese (if desired for garnish)

1.    Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt generously. Add the spaghetti, and cook until slightly underdone, about 7 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Set aside.
2.    Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili; cook until the garlic is golden, about 1 ½ minutes. Add the clams and white wine, and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil; cover and cook, shaking occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes, until the clams open. Stir in the parsley. Transfer the clams to a bowl and set aside.
3.    Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the reserved pasta water and lemon juice; reduce until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in the butter. Add the clam mixture and spaghetti. Cook over medium-low heat until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4
Recipe inspired by The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics