Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mini Cheesecakes

Everyone that knows me, knows two things for sure about me: #1 - I have a major sweet tooth; #2 - I love to bake! I got my sweet tooth from my Dad . . . he used to always say "a meal is not complete without a little something sweet". Growing up, we always had to have something sweet on-hand for Dad, to go along with his coffee at the end of his dinner.

My problem is, when I bake, I have a tendency to over-indulge a bit, if you know what I mean! That "little something sweet" ends up being after breakfast, lunch AND dinner. If it's there, I will eat it.

I am also a person who does not like to waste food. I will do my best to put the food that is in my refrigerator to use before it goes into the garbage. That I get from my Mom. We used to tease her that she would keep moving the leftovers to smaller containers everyday as it was consumed, down to a final container the size of a shot-glass, before she would throw it away. I'm sure she got that way from trying to feed seven kids on a budget.

Last week, I had an 8 ounce package of cream cheese that needed to be used up. I had the urge to bake something, and cheesecake sounded really good, but I didn't want to run to the store and buy three more packages of cream cheese, nor did I want a 10" cheesecake in my fridge, tempting me all day, every day, until it was gone. That's when I came across this recipe on Allrecipes, which was absolutely perfect! It makes six mini cheesecakes - and took only one package of cream cheese (AND I had all of the other ingredients on-hand - BINGO!)

Mini Cheesecakes
from Kim's Cooking Now!

For the Crust:
  • 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 5 graham cracker squares)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
For the Filling:
  • 1 - 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 325°.  Spray 6 cups of a muffin pan generously with non-stick baking spray (I like Wilton® Bake-Easy for all of my baking).
  2. Place butter in a small bowl and microwave on high for 15-20 seconds, or until melted. Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar, and mix until combined and crumbly. Divide the crumb mixture evenly into the prepared 6 muffin cups (about 1 heaping tablespoon per cup), and press down firmly. Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  3. In a medium size bowl, beat the cream cheese, lemon juice and vanilla until fluffy. Add the egg and beat 1 minute more.
  4. Fill each muffin cup with the cream cheese mixture, dividing equally until all of the mixture has been used. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until almost set. Remove from oven, and let them cool completely in the pan. They will continue to set upon removing from the oven.
Note:  I left mine in for the full 25 minutes that is stated in the original recipe, and ended up with slight cracks on the top. The cracks were barely noticeable upon cooling - but I chose to top mine with berries and a fresh blueberry sauce to hide any imperfections.  Removing them slightly earlier should help to remedy this.

Adapted from Allrecipes

These are little gems, and certainly satisfied my sweet tooth that day. Do you have a sweet tooth that is hard to control?  I'd love to hear from you - leave a comment below so I know that I'm not alone!

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Polpette di Pane (Balls of Bread)

Got stale bread? Please don't throw it away . . . 

My husband bakes a batch of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day recipe at least once a week. While we usually consume most of it, we are sometimes left with those odds and ends pieces that end up getting stale. I grind those up in my food processor and save them in a canister in my pantry. Homemade bread crumbs are SO much better then store bought - hands down!

You may recall that our daughter is currently in Santiago, Chile, visiting her Aunt Nadia and her Nonna. We've been Skyping with them frequently, and of course, we always have to know what Nonna is preparing them for dinner. The other day, Nonna prepared one of Nadia's favorites, Polpette di Pane.

She's made them for us in the past as well.  It has been so long since I've made them - years in fact! I knew I had her recipe in my recipe box, so I decided to dig it out, put those homemade bread crumbs to use, and give them a try again. I say "give them a try", because if I recall, she was with me, guiding me along the last time I prepared them.

I found the recipe, and you will understand what I mean when I say "try" once you read what she had written down for me.  Here goes (I've translated from Italian to English for you):

Bread Crumbs
2-3 eggs

THAT'S IT . . . that's all she wrote! This is how ALL of her recipes are. No measurements, no instructions, just a list of ingredients. And when I ask her, "Mamma, how much milk?" or "how much pecorino" . . . her answer is always "as much as it takes!"  Yup - there you have it, "as much as it takes." I did my best here, to show you my interpretation of "as much as it takes". First I'll show you how, and then the recipe WITH the measurements that I used.

Place your bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add the milk, give it a stir and let it sit for 5 minutes to absorb the milk. Add the Pecorino-Romano cheese, garlic, parsley, salt & pepper, and the eggs (slightly beaten). Get in there with your hands, and mix well.

Take a handful of the bread mixture, slightly larger than a golf ball, form it into a ball, and then flatten it slightly into a patty. Repeat until all of the bread mixture has been formed into patties. Heat about 1/2 inch of olive oil in a pan and fry patties until golden brown (2-3 minutes per side). Set aside on a paper-towel lined sheet pan.

Here, you can use your favorite red sauce. I decided to make a simple sauce to go with our polpette. I just sauteed some chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes; Added 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic and sauteed for an additonal minute. Added some tomato sauce and fresh chopped basil and simmered for 15 minutes to combine the flavors.

Add the fried polpette to the sauce and let simmer until the polpette has a chance to soak up some of the sauce, and are heated through.

Polpette di Pane (Balls of Bread)

  • 12 ounces of homemade bread crumbs (I highly recommend using homemade bread crumbs, made from an artisan bread)
  • 2 to 2-1/2 cups of milk
  • 1 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
  • 1-1/2 Tbls of fresh chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper 
  • 3 extra large eggs, slightly beaten
  • Extra virgin olive oil (for frying)
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano® (if desired)
  1. Place bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of milk and mix lightly with a fork. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the milk.
  2. Add the Pecorino-Romano cheese and mix with a fork to combined.
  3. Add crushed garlic, chopped parsley, salt, pepper and mix to combined.
  4. Add beaten eggs. At this point, you will want to get your hands in there and mix it with your hands. The mixture should be moist and slightly sticky. If you need more moisture, add more milk, 1/4 cup at a time to achieve the right consistency.
  5. Take a handful of the mixture and form it into a ball, slightly larger than a golf ball. Flatten slightly into a patty. Repeat until all of the mixture has been formed into patties.
  6. Heat about 1/2" of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. Fry patties in batches, 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove patties from oil to a paper-towel lined baking sheet.
  7. Heat your favorite red sauce in a large pan until hot. Add the polpette, making sure that the patties are covered in sauce. Bring to a simmer and let them cook on low until the polpette have had a chance to soak up some of the sauce and are heated through (about 15 minutes).
  8. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano® cheese (if desired).

Have you ever had polpette di pane? If you haven't, I encourage you to give them a try. I hope that you enjoy them as much as we do!

Buon Appetito!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Molletes with Deconstructed Guacamole

Back in April, I was one of 50 lucky Allrecipes Allstars that was challenged with creating a fun recipe featuring fresh Avocados from Mexico. The recipe needed to be in one of three categories; guacamole, sandwich or salad. There would be 11 grand prize winners, who would have their recipe featured on until the end of 2014. Guess what?  My recipe was one of the 11 chosen, and I am so excited to share it with you today!

I learned how to make molletes from my friend, Jenny.  Jenny and her husband Julio and their two children moved into the house next door to us about 2-1/2 years ago. They are from Mexico, and have also lived many years in England before moving to the U.S. Our families have become great friends. We often get together for dinner, followed by a night of karaoke or playing games with the kids. We have learned so many wonderful dishes from them, but molletes are probably one of my favorites.

Molletes are so easy to make, and come together quickly. They are filling enough to be a quick weeknight meal. Normally, we top them with salsa, but for the challenge, I decided to add my own little twist - by adding a deconstructed guacamole instead!

Molletes with Deconstructed Guacamole

  • 4 bolillo rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 (20.5 oz) can of refried pinto beans (I like La Costena®)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 Avocados from Mexico, peeled, pitted and sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, sliced into rounds
  1. Preheat oven to 400° fahrenheit
  2. Place the bolillo roll halves cut side up on a baking sheet and spread each with 1/2 tablespoons of butter or margarine. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes.
  3. Place refried beans in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes until warm.
  4. Divide the refried beans among the toasted rolls and spread evenly to the edges. Sprinkle each roll with 2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella. Return rolls to oven and bake until cheese is melted, 7 or 8 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and top each roll with sliced tomatoes, avocados, red onion and chopped cilantro. Sprinkle each roll with a pinch of cumin and a pinch of salt. Drizzle each roll with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.
  6. Serve warm with fresh sliced lime.

Also published on allrecipes

I hope that others will enjoy these as much as we do!

Buon Appetito!