Ricotta Cheesecake

Ricotta Cheesecake

My daughters adore cheesecake. Usually I make a traditional New York Style cheesecake for them whenever they want. But if I want to make a cheesecake that has a little more flavor…that is just a little more unique, I turn to this family recipe for Ricotta Cheesecake.

In my house growing up, we only had this cheesecake on the holidays.  But I find myself making this wonderful rich and creamy dessert quite often. The addition of ricotta to what is normally a cream cheese based filling, really gives this cake a different, lighter texture.  And the addition of almond extract, cherries and orange zest give it a very sophisticated flavor. Remember, the key to a perfectly baked cheesecake is leaving it in the oven with the oven turned off at the end of the cooking time.

Ricotta Cheesecake

For the Crust

  • 1 ½ Cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 3 (8-ounce) Packages Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 12 Ounces whole milk ricotta, room temperature
  • 1 ¼  Cups sugar
  • 4 Extra large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 Teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract (if not using the almond extract, use 2 teaspoons of vanilla)
  • 2 Tablespoons drained, chopped maraschino cherries
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 Ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (such as Ghirardelli)
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons flour

Chocolate Topping

  • 6 Ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 Ounces heavy cream

To Make the Crust

Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar and butter and press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until the crust turns golden.

Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  If you prefer a chocolate crust, simply use crushed chocolate wafer cookies in place of the graham crackers).

To Make the Filling

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment whip the cream cheese, ricotta and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next.

Add the extracts and both zests.

Remove the mixer from the stand and stir in the cherries.

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl and toss it with the flour (this will ensure that the chocolate pieces do not sink to the bottom of the cheesecake).

Pour the entire bowl of chocolate pieces (with the flour) into the cheesecake batter and stir to incorporate.

Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 300 and bake for another 30-40 minutes (depending on your oven), or until the center of the cheesecake jiggles slightly when the pan is moved.

Turn the oven off, and leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door cracked open for 20minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it rest on a cooling rack for one hour.

While the cheesecake cools, make the topping.

To Make the Topping

Place the chocolate and heavy cream in a bowl and microwave for 40 seconds.

Remove the bowl from the microwave, and let the mixture sit for a minute or two, then stir the mixture until smooth.

Drizzle the ganache on top of the cheesecake (I like to take a fork and dip it into the chocolate, then move the fork over the top of the cheesecake in a “to-and-fro” motion to make a cool pattern.  Regardless of how you do it, the taste will be delicious!

Refrigerate the cheesecake for a minimum of four hours.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  This cheesecake will remain fresh for up to 4 days, as long as it is stored in the refrigerator and covered well with plastic wrap.

The Elegant Occasion Beverage Pairing: Sauterne (sweet dessert wine) or Champagne.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Oranges

Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Oranges

A few years ago I had the pleasure of working with a terrific producer.  Not only was he very talented in the area of Television production, but he was also a wonderful cook.  He told me about a pasta dish he loves to make once the weather gets warmer.  The sauce is composed of olive oil, oranges and basil.  It sounded interesting to me, and so I tried to create a version of it.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Oranges is one of those light, yet extremely flavorful dishes that you will turn to time and again this spring and summer.  It is the perfect dish for a luncheon or as a first course to a delightful dinner alfresco.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Oranges

  • ½ Cup fresh squeezed orange juice (from about 4 large oranges), plus one orange cut into slices.
  • ¾ Cup olive oil
  • 2 Cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 Pound spaghetti
  • ½  Cup chopped fresh basil
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish (about ½ cup shaved with a potato peeler)

To Make the Sauce

In a sauté pan over medium heat add the olive oil and garlic.

When the garlic has turned golden in color, add the orange juice, salt and red pepper flakes.

Let the sauce simmer for 3-5 minutes.

To Prepare the Pasta

Fill a pan with 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add two teaspoons of salt to the boiling water.

Drop in one pound of spaghetti and let cook until al dente’ (about 9 minutes).

To Plate the Spaghetti with Oranges

Drain pasta.

Place pasta directly in the sauté pan with the olive oil and toss to coat over low heat.

Taste and check for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper if necessary.

Pour spaghetti into a serving bowl.

Add basil and toss to coat evenly.

Garnish with fresh orange slices around perimeter of the bowl or platter and grated parmesan cheese.

The Elegant Occasion Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Roasted Beet Salad

Roasted Beet Salad

I remember my first Mother’s Day.  My little girl was three weeks old, and I was so thrilled to finally be a mom. I wanted nothing more than to look at her sweet face all day.  Now my sweet little girl is 11 and her sisters are 9 and 6.  Mother’s Day is three times the fun and filled with homemade cards and gifts that will forever be cherished.

Strange as it may seem to some, I like to cook on Mother’s Day.  I know it is supposed to be our day off, but it gives me so much pleasure to make a nice dinner for my family, and I would much rather celebrate in my home than in a crowded restaurant.  I will depart from the weekly Sunday red sauce tradition, however, and change it up to make it more special.  And this Roasted Beet Salad is definitely going to be on the menu for Mother’s Day.

 There is a misconception that cooking fresh beets is difficult.  I can tell you that roasting a fresh beet is almost as easy as opening can of them, and much more rewarding when you taste the end result.  This salad is delightful, and with beets readily available in the grocery store, I highly recommend you try them.  It is the perfect item for you to add to your Mother’s Day brunch, lunch or dinner menu. Or even better, it is simple enough to ask someone else to prepare for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Roasted Beet Salad

Serves 4

  • 3 fresh red beets
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus one tablespoon for beets)
  • Dash of milk

To Roast Beets

Cut off stems and greens of beets.

Arrange the whole beets on a large piece of foil.

Place two sprigs of fresh thyme in with the beets, drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil and completely seal the foil.

Place in a 350 degree oven for one hour.

Remove beets from the oven and allow to remain in the foil packet for 20 minutes.

Gently open the foil packet, and with a kitchen towel rub the skin off the beets (the skin will come off very easily).

Discard the thyme sprigs.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  The beets can be roasted and prepared to this point up to two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator (covered).

Wearing kitchen gloves will ensure your hands will not get stained by the beet juice.

To Make the Dressing

In a bowl whisk the mustard and vinegar together.

Add garlic salt, black pepper and the leaves from one sprig of thyme.

Continue to whisk as you slowly incorporate a dash of milk and the olive oil.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  This dressing can be made a day in advance and placed in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. 

Remember to take the dressing out of the refrigerator four hours prior to using.

To Assemble the Salad

Slice the beets in ½ inch thickness.

Divide the arugula equally among the four plates, Arrange four beet slices around the bottom of each salad plate.

Slice the goat cheese in four equal pieces and place one slice on top of the arugula on each plate.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  The salad plates can be assembled (with the exception of the dressing) one hour prior to guests arriving.

When ready to serve, pour dressing over the salad and serve immediately

The Elegant Occasion Wine Pairing: Champagne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc


Roasted Tomatoes on Crostini

Roasted Tomatoes on Crostini

I love tomatoes year round. This recipe is great at any time of year, but extremely refreshing as the weather gets warmer and everyone thinks of eating a little bit lighter.  I am always surprised by people’s reaction to this simple-to-prepare dish.  It is the first thing devoured when I bring it to a party, and when I serve it at my house friends always want to know how to make it…thinking there must be a special ingredient I am not mentioning.  Truth is, the best dishes are those that are simply prepared, and this dish is a perfect example.

Roasted Tomatoes on Crostini

  • 1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Cloves of garlic (peeled and cut in half)
  • 1 Pint red cherry tomatoes
  • 1 Pint yellow cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup fresh basil
  • ¾  Teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ Teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ Cup grated parmesan cheese shavings
  • Rustic Bread, such as ciabatta

To Prepare Dish

Slice bread into twelve  1/4 inch thick slices, and then cut each piece in half so you have 24 slices.

Lay the bread slices on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Broil the crostini, turning once until golden on both sides.

The Elegant Occasion Note: This process takes very little time, so keep a close watch so as not to burn the bread. The crostini can be made 24 hours in advance, and stored in an airtight container or bag, once the crostini has cooled completely.

Heat a sauté pan and add the olive oil and garlic cloves.  Let the garlic turn golden.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (if they are large enough…if not we leave them whole) and add the tomatoes to the pan.

Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper and let the tomatoes cook down for about 15 minutes.

While tomatoes are cooking chop the basil into chiffonades.

When the tomatoes are ready, top each crostini with a spoonful of the tomatoes.

Garnish the crostini with a sprinkling of basil and a few of the parmesan cheese shavings (I use a potato peeler for this).

The Elegant Occasion Note:  You can prepare the tomatoes in advance and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.  When ready to serve, gently warm them or serve them at room temperature.

The Elegant Occasion Beverage Pairing:  Sauvignon Blanc or Rose

Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

In an earlier blog weeks ago I promised that I would give you a new ice cream recipe each month, so here it is…Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese Ice Cream!  This rich and creamy frozen custard is perfect for a bright and refreshing intermezzo, but also terrific on an ice cream cone or drizzled with chocolate sauce.

A bit sophisticated in flavor, this recipe uses fresh mint leaves that I picked straight from my garden. I love seeing the chopped fresh mint leaves throughout the ice cream, as it just makes you think of summer…no food coloring or extracts here.  The goat cheese addition during the last few moments of churning adds a luscious texture.

I was not quite sure what my kids were going to think of this new flavor combination, but being the true foodies they are, they loved it!!!  Wondering how it tastes?  Join me this coming Saturday, May 4th, at Page Hardware and Appliance Company for our “Cook for Mom, Care for Columbus House” event.  I’ll be scooping some up just for you!

Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

  • 6 Extra Large Egg Yolks
  • ¾ Cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Cups whole milk
  • 1 Cup fresh mint leaves  that have been chopped (plus ¼ cup more for adding into the ice cream)
  • 1 Cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½  Teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 Ounces crumbled goat cheese (room temperature)
  • Pinch of salt

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks and half a cup of the sugar until the mixture is fluffy and pale.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer the milk, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 cup of the mint leaves and pinch of salt until the mixture just starts to form bubbles around the perimeter.  Do not boil!

Remove from heat and let the mint leaves steep for 10 to 15 minutes.  After the milk/mint has steeped, remove the mint leaves from the milk.

Gradually add ½ cup of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the eggs and whisk to combine.

Pour the entire egg mixture into the pan with the remaining milk, and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough that it coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and strain the mixture into a plastic container with a lid.

Place the custard in the refrigerator for four to six hours, until very well chilled.

Place the mixture into the ice cream machine for 20 minutes.

During the last five minutes of churning the ice cream, add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint and the crumbled goat cheese.

Return ice cream to the container and place in the freezer for a minimum of four hours.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  For a variation, add bits of chocolate to the ice cream during the last five minutes of churning in the ice cream machine.

Don’t want the goat cheese?  Don’t add it, this is totally optional.