Monday, April 27, 2009

Sweet avocado cheesecake with mango and citrus ‘salsa’

avocado cheesecake3

Sounds weird, I know!

1. I had half a dozen ripe avocados staring at me from the fruit basket and

2. I had a Daring Bakers Challenge to do. The challenge was to make a cheesecake and a basic recipe was posted with instructions to make it ‘unique’ and get creative with flavors and presentation.

Put these two entities together and what do you get? Sweet Avocado Cheesecake!

I remembered an avocado cheesecake a couple of years ago at the innovative Cafe Red Onion, a Latin fusion restaurant. It was delicious. Avocados, being neutral in flavor, lend themselves to savory or sweet renditions. I believed that the velvetiness would enhance the creamy texture of my cheesecake. I would add lots of lime juice in an attempt to keep the color fresh. I was so excited about the idea I began baking right away.

The verdict: I liked it! My neighbor, Carolina loved it! She couldn’t detect the taste of avocado at all. Her daughter thought it was a pretty good lime cheesecake. Husbie wouldn’t go near it! And my sister and her family expressed a distinct dislike for the texture and color. Thanks, Ve and co. for your honesty! My friend Alma did not care for it. Her charming son, Joey, thought it was ‘interesting’ but liked it! And her husband John… haven’t heard back from him yet!

So, I’d say it’s a clear winner!!! I guess it’s not for everyone!

The Daring KitchenThe April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. You can click on her site to find the original recipe. Thanks to Jenny and the founders of the Daring Bakers, Lis and Ivonne for keeping the ‘daring’ in over a thousand bakers all over the world!

I modified Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake a little so that I could incorporate the avocados and lime juice. Next time I make it (yes, there will be a next time), I will use one avocado less so that the cheesecake is a more pleasing color. Some people just couldn’t handle it! The mango and citrus ‘salsa’ is sweet and tart and is a nice contrast to the creaminess of the cheesecake.

Sweet avocado cheesecake with mango and citrus ‘salsa’ Make the cheesecake the day you plan to serve it because it needs to chill overnight. The ‘salsa’ should be made the day of serving (see instructions below).

  • Almond Crust
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted

Put almonds in processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter and pulse until blended but still crumbly. Pat into the bottom and a little up the sides of a 9” springform baking pan (I made two small cakes – one 5” round, and one 6 1/4” round). Set aside.

avocado cheesecake4

  • Cheesecake batter
  • 2 packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2-3 (I’d go with 2) ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • pinch of salt

Prepare a water bath by half filling a shallow roasting pan with very hot water. Place the pan on the lowest rack in the oven. Place another rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In a mixer, combine cream cheese and sugar. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time until all are incorporated.

Place avocados in a food processor. Blend until very smooth. Add zest, lime juice, sour cream, rum and salt. Blend well.

Add avocado mixture to cream cheese mixture and blend on low speed until well blended. Pour into cake pan. Place pan on middle rack in oven. If you’re using a 9” pan, bake for 45 minutes than check to see if it set but still a little ‘jiggly’ in the middle after you bump the pan a little.

Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Chill overnight.

  • Avocado ‘Salsa’
  • You can make the salsa without the avocado ahead of time. Peel and cut avocado not too long before you plan to serve it so that it doesn’t discolor.
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 orange, peeled and segmented then cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • 1/2 grapefruit, peeled and segmented then cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 mango, peeled, flesh cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Combine avocado and lime juice in medium bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Place fruit mixture in a sieve and drain juices off before decorating cheesecake.

avocado cheesecake1


Avocado on Foodista

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Twittering and a blue cheese dressing

It all began with the chirping of chimney swifts in the chimney during the storm last night, and a cacophony of mocking birds twittering at the crack of dawn this morning.  I should be complimentary to my feathered friends because they did make pretty music, but I wasn’t quite ready to emerge from my sweet slumber!  The twittering must have been a sign…

I don’t have a picture of my outdoor twitters, but here’s a cutie from my Delft jar:

Delft bird

Later this morning, I read my dear neighbor Carolina’s blog.  Her remarkable husband, Gabe, was her guest blogger.  I’m not complimenting him only because he helps me with my computer issues;  he is also very smart and a wonderful husband and father.  After reading his entertaining post about the dubious cuisine of Nigeria (he works there on rotation), I followed a link to his blog and before I knew it, I became a Twitterer  -  not to be confused with Twit, OK?!    

Twittering is taking over as the new form of social communication.  Snippets (140 characters or less) of information are sent by the ‘twitter’ to followers in the cyber world and if the service is also connected to their cell phones, it’s transferred immediately.  Oprah has over half a million followers!  President Obama ‘twittered’ during the campaign and Lance Armstrong ‘tweets’ several times a day.  One of NASA’s astronauts will tweet about his training for an upcoming mission.  No news on whether he will be tweeting from space, though.  Time Magazine and CNN tweet to thousands of followers about news updates as they occur.   As you can see, the possibilities are endless!

On to the subject of food!  A couple of days ago I made a delicious blue cheese dressing and served it on a wedge of iceberg lettuce.  The ‘wedge’ salad has been all the rage the last few years, but I could barely finish it – the iceberg was tasteless and watery and simply not worthy of the blue cheese.  Perhaps the lowly iceberg’s role should remain a supporting one:  to complement the spice in chalupas and tacos, and add crunch and balance to a salty BLT  (in my most humble opinion, of course).

Yesterday, I composed a salad worthy of the remainder of the blue cheese dressing: curly red tip lettuce, avocado slices, hickory smoked bacon, and slices of ripe, juicy pears and radishes.  All of that was topped with snipped chives and freshly ground pepper. 

Blue cheese dressing

The dressing is thick, so I suggest you leave some moisture on the lettuce after you rinse it.  That way, when you toss the salad, the consistency will be perfect.  The pictures were taken before I tossed the salad, hence the mounds of dressing.  It would be great as a dip for veggies and crackers as well.

Blue Cheese Dressing from The Best American Recipes 2003-2004

1/2 cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup crumbled blue cheese 

Stir mayonnaise and sour cream together.  Add Worcestershire sauce and blue cheese. Use a fork to mash the blue cheese to blend it in, leaving some chunks.  Keep refrigerated until use.

Blue cheese dressing1

All a-twitter,


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pedaling to Austin in the MS150!

I was so looking forward to rising early this morning and meeting my teammates, but due to serious thunderstorms in SE Texas, event organizers have cancelled the first day of the MS150.   Fortunately, the weather will be clear but quite windy tomorrow, so Day 2 is still a ‘go’.  YAY!   Here is the post I was going to publish before I left this morning:

Dicelys, Easter, Bikey, March 08 011

If you are reading this post on Saturday, April 18 or Sunday, April 19 yours truly can be found firmly seated on a bicycle pedaling, much of it uphill, about 175 miles between Houston and Austin.  About 13,000 riders and I don colorful team jerseys, special biking shoes and helmets, and leave the flatlands of coastal Texas.  We head for the rolling hills to the west with one cause in mind: to increase awareness of Multiple Sclerosis and to raise money for research and hopefully, its cure.

It’s expected to be quite stormy on Saturday which reminds me of a training ride a couple of years ago when I got thoroughly soaked in a light rain shower and could hear the squishing of water between my toes.  I was a novice rider and so happy to be on my bike that I laughed and smiled like a total Bozo!   Just ask my sister, she knows that smile.  Soon afterward, the sun came out and by the end of the ride I was completely dry!  A light shower is tolerable during a ride;  a storm with high winds – no sir-ee!

Three Christmases ago, my generous Husbie coughed up several hundred dollars for my spiffy road bike.  I proudly ride on Team PATE, a civil engineering firm where Husbie works.  The company’s volunteers are amazing – they give up their weekend to cook, serve, drive, load, unload, photograph, spot, cheer and encourage.  Team captains Suzie, Kevin and Jason were so patient with me and answered a million questions about equipment, technique and rules of the road.  I have discovered that I ride more like an Ullrich  than an Armstrong (my cadence is slower but I’m in a higher gear).  I also learned to increase my momentum as I approach a hill and use it to carry me up most of the way. 

Riding long distances demands special equipment for comfort.  My bike seat is ergonomic – it has a gaping slit down the middle which helps relieve the ‘pressure points’!   It helps to a point, ergo the padded cycling pants that feel like a diaper when I walk!  And on top of that I slap Chamois Butt’r on my fanny and other areas too private to mention on a food blog.  It took me a while to get used to it all and now it’s second nature! 

In preparation for this two day affair, many of us train long hours beginning in January.  ‘Recommended’ rides take place in many parts of southeast Texas and for a small donation to a charitable organization, a route is mapped out for you and SAG (support and gear) vehicles cruise in support of riders with technical or physical problems.  Busy intersections are manned by police officers.  There is a planned rest stop every 10 – 15 miles where a rider can stretch her legs, get a mini massage, and get nourishment such as fruit, cookies and fortified water.  A couple of great memories:  the Katy HS Ram Band waking everyone up with New York, New York at 7am before we set off, and seeing members of the Brookwood Community in the stands cheering for us as we began our ride.  It was very touching and a ride I plan to participate in every year.

On MS150 morning, we leave at the crack of dawn after our team picture has been taken.  The crisp sound of our shoes clipping into our pedals adds to the excitement and anticipation.  We have miles to cover, new friends to meet and experiences to savor.  It’s an event that fosters camaraderie like no other I know of.

A family send-offDicelys, Easter, Bikey, March 08 013

During MS150 weekend, the country roads are lined with supporters and entertainers.  Many who struggle with MS are in wheelchairs.  They smile as they hold up their posters that say encouraging and thankful messages.  They inspire me and I say a little prayer and am thankful that I can still ride.  

I have seen the Scottish bagpiper, resplendent in his kilt, serenading us as we ride past him.  A fiddler appears in a farm driveway in the middle of nowhere - a lone body, drawing his bow, making high-pitched energizing music that increases the speed of our pedaling.  But the loudest supporters of all are the townspeople of Fayetteville (pop. 274 in 2007).  Honky tonk music emanates from the saloon on the Square and spectators stomp their feet and shake cowbells as they clap and cheer.  (When I am no longer able to ride, I’m going to join in the fun in Fayetteville!)  Just around the corner, we are greeted by a cheerful sea of bubbles.

But the memory of my first MS150 that will forever be etched in my mind is of Husbie who was cheering riders on as they came in at the end of the first day.  By the time I reached that last climb in La Grange, he had very little voice left.  He spotted me and began jumping up and down, waving his arms and cap like a madman, proudly exclaiming, “That’s my wife, that’s my wife!”   Thank you, Honey, for always encouraging me and being supportive *kiss* , *kiss*!

The last ten miles are the most difficult.  My legs are tired.  The sight of the Capitol dome and the University of Texas Tower has never been so welcomed and I choke with happiness, knowing that I’ve trained hard and succeeded.  The Austin Pate office gifts me with a lovely tiara and life is great!

During our rides, we consume many calories, mostly in the form of fruit, fortified drinks, gooey substances-of-questionable-origin in small packages, and energy bars.  I am a huge lover of dates, and the minute I tried a Larabar, I was hooked.  The main ingredient is dates with flavors added for variety.  They are organic and wholesome and devoid of ingredients with bizarre names.  Undaunted, I experimented, and look!

ms150 bars1

I made two versions of these bars:  Ginger Orange with Almonds, and Chocolate Chip with Walnuts.  I’m going to share them with my teammates and let you know how they stand up to the original.  The recipe will be posted soon!

I wish all of my fellow cyclists a great ride this year.  Ride on! 

ms150 bars


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Coconut Butter Thins

TWD Coconut butter thins2

Late again with my TWD post.  Over a week late, I must confess!  Sometimes work, social events and training for a two-day 170- mile bicycle ride (MS150 Houston to Austin) just gets in the way of a blogger! 

I made Dorie Greenspan’s Coconut Butter Thins over two weeks ago and they were quickly consumed by me and my training buddies.   Fortunately for me, cycling demands an increase in calorie intake so I forget about the guilt and indulge in sweets to my palate’s content!  Bring on those hills!  My sugar-laden body owns them!

The basis of these rich buttery cookies is shortbread dough.  The addition of toasted macadamia nuts and coconut put a distinctive, crunchy spin on an otherwise plain cookie.  My favorite part of the baking process was rubbing the lime zest into the sugar.  My entire kitchen smelled fresh and citrusy.  These cookies are definitely worth a try and wonderful with a cup of coffee.

Thanks to Jayne at The Barefoot Kitchen Witch for choosing this recipe.  It’s probably not one that I would have been moved to make, but having done so, I’m really glad that I did.    These are the pleasant surprises that come with belonging to a group like TWD.  You can find the complete recipe and a funny account of Jayne’s cute daughter helping mommy make the cookies by clicking on the name of her blog above.  She even included detailed how-to pictures. 

And…I just couldn’t resist sharing this beautiful orchid with you.  It’s one of the many blooming orchids in my kitchen window.TWD Coconut butter thins1


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lasagne Verdi al Forno and home made spinach pasta!


When I first ate lasagna in Italy, I was surprised at how different the dish was to lasagna typically served in the US. Gracious Patrizia at Villa Ferraia served us her version during a fantastic week at Ferraia’s culinary school (can you find this blogger in the kitchen?). It was light, very flavorful, and composed of thin layers of pasta, béchamel and meat sauce .

According to Lynne Rossetto Kasper, author of The Splendid Table, lasagne should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavors. The results are splendid.”

Does that description sound like your typical tall stacked and heavy American-style lasagna? Definitely not! But if you’ve never had authentic lasagna, you’re missing something special.

Our Daring Baker’s challenge for March was to make authentic lasagne (plural), and particularly the lasagne verde, or spinach egg pasta. I’m always ready for a challenge with this group, founded by Lis and Ivonne! You rock!

The Daring Baker’s March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. Click on any of these sites to find the entire recipe.

Making the lasagne was a lot easier than I expected. Only three ingredients are needed – eggs, spinach and flour. I used frozen chopped spinach, squeezed it well to remove excess liquid and chopped it by hand (and not a food processor), so my spinach was more on the chunky side:


But look at what I created! A beautiful green sheet which reminded me of stained glass when held up to the sun! The goal was to get the lasagne as thin and transparent as possible. D’ya think I succeeded?


I chose to roll the dough using a traditional rolling pin and my brute strength (of which I have none!). Fortunately, I was aided by a live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Wagner’s Nordic epic Das Rheingold. I had gods, thunder, and fire coursing through my veins as I pushed, turned and pulled the dough. Live from the Met – your timing was perfect!

Lasagne sheets were left to dry for a few hours:


The béchamel sauce was also simple to make using butter, flour, milk pepper and freshly grated nutmeg:


The ragu (meat sauce) was to die for! It took about 4 hours to make from beginning to end and included amongst other ingredients pancetta, beef, pork, prosciutto and sweet carrots. Surprisingly there was no garlic and no herbs, yet it had so many levels of flavor, with wine uniting them all. The wine was the key ingredient in the sauce, in my opinion, and here is a good example of why one should use quality wine when cooking. Husby was kind enough to open a Rabbit Ridge 2002 Paso Robles L.P.R. Grand Reserve. It was sooo yummy and jammy and fruity, I sipped, chopped and stirred…then I sipped again! I lived up to my license plate frame my daughter bought me that says:

I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food!

The end product was a ragu I’ll be making many times, using quality wine, of course!

Assembly was easy. I chose to bake the lasagne uncovered because I love a crisp and toasted cheesy top! Served with red wine…