Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cheesecake Heaven

This weekend, we had awful, cold, rainy weather here in Greenville. So I decided to bake something. Standard. However, I didn't want to just make my normal cookies or brownies, I wanted to try something new. In all my years of baking, I've never made a cheesecake, so I decided that was the dessert of choice I wanted to conquer this weekend. Why a cheesecake? We are having people over for Easter in a few weeks, and I'm thinking about making a one then. I've heard they can be a little tricky, so I figured it would be best to try making one first before I had a house full of guests!

I went out and bought a 9" spring form pan (despite Alton Brown's advice to use a solid pan), and that ended up working out perfectly.  I read that, typically, Italian style cheesecakes are made with ricotta cheese, while New York style cheesecakes are made with cream cheese. I opted to make a NY style, as that's my favorite kind. Everyone has different preferences for how they like their cheesecake; some people like a more dense, dry cheesecake, while others prefer it lighter and creamier, so my goal was to find a balance right in the middle of those qualities. I ended up drawing from 3 different recipes for the my cheesecake: Alton Brown's Recipe, the Joy of Baking recipe, and "The Cheesecake Factory" recipe...so here is my version of NY Style Cheesecake :)

For the crust you'll need:
  • 18 Graham Crackers (a little over 2/3 of one box)
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 2 tbs sugar
First, I melted the butter, then I brushed it around the inside of my spring form pan. I then lined the pan with parchment paper. I crushed the grahams in the food processor, then poured in the remainder of the melted butter and the sugar, and processed it all until it was thoroughly combined. I used the bottom of a glass to pat down the graham cracker mixture until it was all around the inside of the pan. Now, 2 of the 3 recipes said not to bake the crust first, but I went with Alton Brown's advice and baked the crust for 15 mins at 300 degrees, then set aside to cool. (Also, turn the oven up to 350 for the following step...) Now it's time to make the filling! You'll need:
  • 32 oz of cream cheese (yes, that's 4 bricks)
  • 1 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tbs of flour
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/3 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 5 eggs
Start by blending the first 3 ingredients until fluffy. (It helps if you leave the cream cheese out to soften a bit first!) Then I added the next 3 ingredients and beat until incorporated. Then I added the eggs one at a time, and beat just until each one was mixed in. Pour into the crust.

Now here's where I hit a little hitch in my plan. 2 of my 3 recipes (as well as "On Food and Cooking," my go to reference guide in the kitchen!) said that the ideal way to cook cheesecake is in a water bath. It wasn't until I had the cheesecake in my pan that I realized I didn't have a roasting pan large enough to do a water bath. Whoops. However, the Joy of Baking recipe said just to bake the cheesecake sans water bath, so I went that route since it was my only option. I baked the cheesecake at 350 degrees for 15 mins, then I turned the oven down to 250 degrees and baked the cheesecake for 2 hrs. (It said to bake until firm and just wiggly or a little wet in the middle...mine was still pretty jiggly after 2 hours, but I was tired of waiting!) I then made a sour cream topping for the cheesecake which consisted of:
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 2 tbs of sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
I wasn't sure about doing this, but in hindsight, I think it was an excellent choice because it added some tangy sweetness and helped to make the top look perfectly smooth. I just mixed these 3 ingredients in a small bowl until smooth, then spread them over the top of the cheesecake I had just pulled out of the oven. I put the cheesecake back in the oven (which is still at 250 degrees) and let it bake for another 15 minutes. I then turned the oven off, and cracked it open for a minute or two, and then closed it to let the cheesecake cool in the oven. I left it in there for another hour and a half (in case you haven't figured this out, don't make this cheesecake if you have somewhere to go because it takes a whole lotta time!) and then removed it, covered it in plastic wrap, and put it the fridge overnight.

In the morning you will wake up to most delicious cheesecake you've ever eaten. Seriously. Not to toot my own horn, but this cheesecake is awesome. Which Cam and I discovered when we had a piece for breakfast on Sunday morning before church :)

(I actually had a friend who fancies herself a cheesecake connoisseur and she said that this is the best homemade cheesecake she's ever had!)

This may have been my first cheesecake, but it's definitely not my last! :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

Photo credit: Denton Harryman-GreeenvilleDailyPhoto.com
 Today is the first day of spring, yay!! While the weather today isn't as nice as yesterday and Friday, I must admit that I am thoroughly enjoying spring in the South! Here are some things that I am loving right now:

  • Flowers: It seems that everything down here is in bloom right now, a beautiful sight to see in March. All the trees are flowering pretty pink and white blossoms, I'm greeted by little yellow flowers and pink tulips every time I pull in my apartment, and I just bought a happy bunch of daffodils at Whole Foods after church today. It's little things like this that brighten my day! 
  • Basketball: March Madness is in full swing, and while I'll admit I'm not really loving it (I'm actually getting sick of my HGTV time getting taken over by it!) but since Cam and everyone around me is, I figured it deserved a mention. And I am loving the fact that Michigan made it to the second round and I've got my fingers crossed that they beat Duke today! 
  • Dog Park: Now that the weather is so gorgeous, we've been trying to get Lola to the dog park in downtown Greenville at least once a weekend to get her used to being around other dogs. I think that all the socialization is good for her and it certainly helps burn off some of her puppy energy! And I think that I enjoy it just as much as Lola does because it's so much fun to see the wide variety of dogs that come every weekend.
  • Sunshine and longer days: Even though I am not a fan of losing an hour thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it's SO nice to get out of work and have some daylight left! I love being able to take Lola for a walk after work or go to the gym and have it not be dark, and the days are only going to keep getting longer...lovely!  
  • New Beginnings: I have been feeling very inspired in a lot of different way lately, and I think that spring only intensifies those urges for growth and change. Spring is the time for rebirth and renewal, and while I don't know what the future holds for us, I am excited about what's in store...even if I'm not sure what that is yet :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prada & Pressed for Time

Happy Friday everyone! This week, I got the latest issue of InStyle Magazine (which I plan to read by the pool tomorrow!) in the mail and I was happy to see one of my favorite funny girls, Tina Fey, on the cover. When I opened the magazine, I was even more excited to see Tina rocking the Prada dress that has been ubiquitous this season. I love this dress. It's just so fun and happy, and I love the unexpected combination of pink black and orange. It appeared in Prada's Spring 2011 Runway collection, but received a lot of press when up-and-comer Hailee Steinfeld wore it to the SAG Awards in January. I think that she made a lot of really smart fashion choices throughout awards season, however, this Prada dress was my favorite pick of hers. It's classy while still being fresh and age-appropriate. The dress also appeared on Amanda Seyfried's April cover of Elle magazine, and I'm a huge fan of hers and thought the dress was perfect for a spring cover. I just love this dress, and if I had the money/place to wear it, it would be mine.

Another thing that is making me happy on this sunny Friday is the fact that I finally got this pair of boots fixed that have been missing the heel tips for quite some time now. Did I finally get the motivation to actually take them in to get repaired? Nope. Instead I used a service called Pressed 4 Time, which gets my vote for one of the best ideas ever. The come to your office, pick up your dry cleaning/repairs, and then come back a few days later and drop it off at your office. Genius! And because this was my first time using them, the did the boot repair for now charge. How awesome is that? Completing tasks with zero effort = Awesome. Happy weekend y'all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Curry in a Hurry

I think mine came out pretty close to the picture in the magazine :)
This week, I made something out of the ordinary for dinner. I made curried chicken I made in the slow cooker, and let me just say that Indian food is something that is not in my normal reportoire. However, I made this dish because Cam really likes curry, and since he had just come back from being out of town last week, I thought that this would be a nice surprise. I'll admit, I was expecting this meal to be super gross, but it was actually pretty good, and it was super easy. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I LOVE my slow cooker, and I use it at least once a week. However, I was getting a little bored with my normal slow cooker dishes, so I got this recipe from the March issue of Real Simple magazine. They had a great feature about slow cooker dinners, and I ended up making almost every recipe in the article. Some of our favorites included the chipotle beef tacos with cabbage slaw (Cam liked these a lot), the spinach ricotta lasagna (I loved this and was amazed how well it came out!), and the white bean soup with collard greens and andouille sausage (we both liked this).

The slow cooker is something that's usually associated with winter, it's actually perfect for summer cooking. I think that a lot of people think that the crock pot is just for chili, but in reality, it can be used to make a wide variety of much lighter dishes that are perfect for spring and summer. Plus, by continuing to use the slow cooker throughout the warmer months, you can make a fix it and forget it dinner, without turning on your oven. This way you make the most of the nice weather (without heating up your house!) because you have a meal ready when you walk in the door so you have more time to enjoy the evening outside instead of in the kitchen. I plan on using my beloved slow cooker all summer long; case in point--it's 74 degrees in Greenville today and the high for tomorrow is 83 degrees, so the last thing I want to do is sit inside all night and cook and clean up. But since it's St. Patrick's Day today, I ran home at lunch to throw a corned beef in the crock pot (I have to make corned beef every year for St. Patty's Day, it's tradition and soo yummy!), so when I get home tonight, dinner will be ready and we'll have leftovers to take us through the weekend! Now that's lucky! Happy St. Patty's Day everyone! :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Body Attack!

It seems that spring has finally sprung in Greenville! We had great weather this past weekend, and it's supposed to be 80 degrees here this Friday. However, that means its going to be bathing suit season much sooner than I'm used to (aka you're lucky to be in a bathing suit in Mid-June in Michigan). This means I'm really working on trying to get back to my regular workout routine, and out of my current routine of cuddling with Lola and eating candy while watching TV in my apartment. Luckily, as Lola gets older, her ability to not potty in her cage continues to improve, making it easier for me to get to the gym without having to worry about coming home to a huge mess. While I do like running and working out independently, I personally much prefer taking group fitness classes. Maybe this is due to the fact that I tend to be a more social person, but I feel like I tend to work harder and get less bored when I'm working out in a class with a teacher telling me what to do. Luckily, the gym I go to has offers a wide variety of classes every week, as well as having multiple locations that I can go to for different classes. Back in January they started offering a new class, and let me just say, I love it. The class is called Body Attack, and it's a high-energy cardio class that always makes me feel like I got a great workout, plus it's just really fun. I would describe it as a mix of Zumba, high-intensity aerobics, and sports conditioning. We do everything from jumping jacks, Rockette-style kicks, high knees, sprint drills, and cheerleader-esque tuck jumps, and it's all set to fun energetic music. I'm always exhausted after this class, but in a good way, and it works your whole body in 55 minutes. I know that not all gyms offer the Les Mills classes, but if your gym does, I would highly recommend checking this class out!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My week of singledom

So this past week, Cam has been out of town for work. It sucks. He actually came to NYC last Friday, spent the weekend there with Melissa and I, then when I flew home Sunday night, he went to his week-long training for work, and won't be home until later tonight. I really don't like when he's gone. Like really don't like it. Having him gone generally tends to create anxiety for me as I get nervous being home alone at night. I know this is completely irrational, as our apartment complex is extremely safe and the likelihood of something happening is really rare. However, no matter how many times I tell myself this, when he's out of town, I feel like I'm always on edge and never get a good night's sleep. Plus, I just get kind of lonely and really do miss having him here when he's out of town. But I know that traveling for work is something he's going to have to do from time to time, so I told myself that this week I was going to try to see his being gone as an opportunity to work on getting more comfortable with having to be home alone. I really wanted to use it as a chance to just trust in the Lord, and ask him to give me peace to overcome my irrational worries. Another thing I did to make being by myself for a whole week seem less terrible is to really try and focus on the good things about being alone. I actually made a list of all the fun things that I wanted to do this week, no matter how silly or insignificant. The key thing is it had to be something Cam doesn't like or something I probably wouldn't do when we're both home. This list inculuded:
  • Make butterscotch cookies--Cam doesn't like butterscotch, but I don't know why because these cookies are delicious...I should know because I at about half the batch I made to bring in to work this week...whoops
  • Watch movies--I tried to pick things I know Cam would never want to watch but I've been wanting to see like "The Princess and the Frog," which ended up being adorably fantastic
  • Paint my nails--I do this when Cam's home, but now I just don't have to listen to him complain about the smell!
  • Not clean--So great. Normally I like to keep the apartment neat and tidy, so Cam and I both try to pick up after ourselves, and I try to clean on a regular basis. Not this week. I basically didn't pick up after myself at all, and while I finally had to break down and clean today because it was starting to drive me crazy, it was kind of fun to just let everything go for a week. 
  • Endless hours of my TV--3 straight hours of Bravo? Nanny reruns? Old episodes of Sex and the City I've seen literally 50 times? House Hunters International marathon all set in Italy? Bring it on! I love watching mindless shows, and these week I definitely indulged in not having to share the remote!
  • Not cook/eat junk food--As said as this sounds, I think this was probably the thing that I was most excited for this week. Normally Cam and I eat fairly nutritiously, but this week I opted to skip my usual Whole Foods trip, and just go to the normal grocery store instead. I stocked up on things like Lucky Charms, Stouffer's French Bread Pizza, and Kraft Box Mac & Cheese, and of course Easter candy! (when I'm actually typing this out, it sounds a lot more disgusting haha) Basically, I ate like 7 year old child who has no parents to make them eat healthy food, and it was awesome. Although, I'm looking forward to doing somewhat of a detox this week when Cam gets home before I go into diabetic shock...
So the conclusion I've come to this week is that while it was nice to have some alone time this week to do basically be a bum, if I were single I'm pretty sure that my mind and teeth would be rotted from all the TV and candy! It's also true that absence does make the heart grow fonder, and as much as I hate having Cam gone, I am looking forward to seeing him tonight finally! Now I just need to finish cleaning up the giant mess that I've made this week...woo!

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    New York, New York!

     This past weekend, I was fortunate to be able to take a trip to New York with my sister, and we had a fabulous time! Our trip started off early Friday morning, as I drove to Charlotte, which is 90 mins from my apartment, to catch my 6:15 am flight. Cut to me driving down I-85 at 3:15 am in the pitch dark with a million semi trucks as I sing at the top of my lungs to Katy Perry "Firework" to keep myself awake since I had gotten about 45 minutes of sleep the night before. Awesome. But I made it to the airport, caught my flight, and made it La Guardia with no problems. I met my sister at the airport, as she was flying in from Detroit. I was so excited because she had never been to NYC before, and she's considering moving there after she graduates. We hopped in a cab and dropped our stuff off at the Sheraton in Midtown, then headed to meet my friend Lisa, who was also in town for the weekend. We grabbed some breakfast, walked around Times Square, and did some shopping on 5th Avenue. We met my friend Dani and one of my other sorority sisters for lunch, and it was so great to spend some time with my friends and remininsce about old college memories.

     We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in Soho, and Melissa and I even saw Christy Turlington buying her son a pair of Crocs! (so random) Friday night, we went out to dinner with my friend Kristen at this great Italian restaurant on the Lower East Side, went for drinks, and hung out with her friends. We got up Saturday morning and headed to Brooklyn to meet our friends, Jeff and Laura, for breakfast. (We ate at this delish place called Olea, and I had this fabulous savory parmesan french toast, that had poached eggs and peas...sounds odd, but it was really superb and something I'm dying to replicate at home!) Cam had come into the city for work on Friday night, so he came with Melissa and I to Brooklyn, and it was nice to be able to enjoy a meal with some of our favorite married friends. It was really neat to get to see Brooklyn and explore their cute neighborhood (Ft. Greene) as well. After breakfast, we checked out the Brooklyn Flea, this awesome hipster vintage craft market that's held in this gorgeous old bank.

     We lucked out with super nice weather on Saturday, so we headed back to Manhattan to do some more sightseeing. Melissa's thinking about potentially doing grad school at FIT at some point, so we checked that out--what a cool school. Another one of the main things we did over the course of the whole weekend was indulge in some amazing food, which is one of my favorite things about NYC. We got some falafel (yum!) while we were walking around Midtown, and then the made the trek up to the Upper West Side specifically to get these cookies from Levain Bakery, that I had heard were supposed to be fantastic. Let me tell you, these cookies were AMAZING. The Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies were just beyond good. (I was kind of mad that they only had regular chocolate chip cookies with walnuts because I am not a fan of nuts in cookies, brownies, or breads...but oh well, the chocolate chocolate chip cookies totally made up for it) Definitely worth the subway ride/walk. We took a stroll through Central Park, and then went back to the hotel to take a nap because New York tires you out!

     That night, we went out with one of Melissa's friends who goes to FIT, and it ended up being a really good time. Part of the reason for this trip was finally getting to celebrate the fact that Melissa is now 21 and it was so nice to be able to go out with her and party! We went to a club in Chelsea, and I even though I totally felt like Leslie Mann playing the older sister in 'Knocked Up' where she's all worried about being too old to go to the club, it was a lot of fun.  We got to cut the line, got free drinks all night, and I felt like I was 21 again. We even got late night diner food and stay out til 4 am. Good times.

     Sunday morning, we got brunch, did some shopping in the rain, and got cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery. I've had Crumbs cupcakes in New York a few times before, but I hadn't tried Magnolia's. Their vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting is to die for, but boy is it sweet. (Seriously, this cupcake was almost too sugary for me to eat, and that's saying something!) Melissa and I caught a cab back to LGA, and went back to our respective cities, but I'm so glad that we were able to spend a weekend together in the Big Apple. Now if I can just get her to move their after graduation, I could visit this great city even more often :)

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Baking & Blogging

    Over the past couple of weeks, I feel like I have been blogging a lot more, and the more time I spend in the blogging world, the more I realize just how many fantastic blogs there are out there. A few of my co-workers have recently started blogs of their own, and so we've been having all sorts of conversations about design and purpose for a blog. I feel like you can do a blog one of three ways--either you can have it be based around a particular subject such as cooking or fitness and not include personal information, or you can have it be more like an online journal where you share updates about your personal life. Or you can have it be a combination of the two, which is what I'm trying to do with my blog. I have been toying with the idea of changing direction with this blog, or making a new blog all together, and just specifically focus on cooking and baking. I'm very passionate about food, and I've been discovering lots of amazing food blogs lately, so I was thinking maybe that's the direction I should head. However for now, I don't think I'm fully ready to do a blog 100% dedicated to food because I've realized that I'm far to random to stick to just one topic! However, I'm definitely going to keep posting my adventures in cooking and baking here (as well as where I find my recipes!) Many of the food blogs I read feature new recipes, but I'm really not someone who likes to just make up their own concoctions, I very much prefer following the recipe. This is why I really prefer baking to cooking; cooking is much more about improvisation, where as with baking, it's much more systematic, which I find very relaxing!

    This week I baked a loaf of bread, and according to Cam, it was one of the best things I've ever made! I consider that high praise as I've made a lot of baked goods...But this bread was fantastic, but what I loved most about it was how simple and easy it was to make. I found the recipe for Beer Bread on one of my favorite food blogs, The Well-Fed Newlyweds (such a clever name, I wish I would have come up with it!). All you do is just mix together your dry ingredients, and then add a bottle of beer. The yeast from the beer makes the bread rise, and adds a lot of flavor to the bread. To quote Ina Garten, how easy is that! What makes the bread especially yummy is that you take melted butter and put it in the pan, add the dough, and then put more melted butter on top, giving the crust great color and flavor (because honestly, when doesn't butter make things better...). I used a bottle of Bell's Amber Ale (we were able to get Bell's all the way in SC!), but I think that you could influence the flavor of the bread depending on which kind of beer you choose. This is the perfect bread to have with a bowl of hearty soup, but it's also great by itself!

    The same night I made the bread, I decided I also wanted to make cookies, but we were out of chocolate chips (idk how this happened because they are one pantry staple I usually ALWAYS have on hand) so per Cam's request, I made his mom's nutmeg cookies, which turned out pretty well.

     I've also been continuing my slow-cooker obsession. I love using it because it's so convenient for me to throw something in when I come home at lunch to walk Lola, and then it's great to have dinner ready when we get home from work. I think I also like the slow cooker because it's more like baking then cooking...Anyway, there are some great slow-cooker recipes in the March issue of Real Simple, a favorite magazine of mine! So far I've made the spinach lasagna (great!), the chipotle beef tacos (pretty good, but not my fav), and the white bean and andouille sausage with collard greens (delicious!)...Happy cooking and baking everyone! :)


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