Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Transforming the Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar into Cheesecake, for The Daring Bakers and 2010 Winter Olympics

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

Lauren named this Challenge, The World Comes to Canada, in honor of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  On  February 12, the XXI Olympic Winter Games will commence in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.  I would love to visit Vancouver and Whistler someday...I've often contemplated a ski vacation over Christmas and New Year's, at the stunning Fairmont Chateau Whistler.  Perhaps the Fairmont would like to treat me for a long weekend and offer my Blueberry-Maple Cheesecake and Maple-Bacon Tuiles as a special dessert on one of its restaurant menus???  A woman can dream...

Granted, I have never tasted an original Nanaimo Bar, but I did not find the coconut in the bottom layer, and excessively sweet-sounding middle layer, too appealing.  I could have lived with the coconut, but the middle layer sounded much too similar to Royal Icing and brought back visions of the 25 lbs. of confectioner's sugar we went through during our recent gingerbread season!  More importantly, the Daring Bakers' Challenges are all about being daring and creative, right?  It would be rather dull and boring if all the Daring Bakers simply duplicated the original recipe, and all of our Nanaimo Bars looked and tasted the same. 

The first part of the challenge was to make homemade graham crackers, which were then crumbled and used in the base layer of the Nanaimo Bars.  For the remainder of the challenge, we were permitted to experiment with different flavors and ingredients.

Therefore, I transformed the Nanaimo Bar into a Cheesecake version, and incorporated some Canadian ingredients:, i.e., Saskatoon berries (ok, I used blueberries), maple syrup, and bacon.  I added a few more spices to the crust (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) and a little orange zest to the cheesecake filling.  And, for a little garnish atop the dark chocolate ganache, which was flavored with smidgen of Canadian Whiskey, I baked up some Maple-Bacon Tuiles!

I found the plate during a recent junking afternoon, and added the bronze maple leaves (Christmas tree ornaments) and swatch of fur, to make my plating and presentation more Canadian and Winter Olympic-ish ;-)  Our copper placemats are pretty cool also, from Crate & Barrel.  One of these days, I must do a post on all of the great stuff I've found junking!

I made four, 4-inch cheesecakes, because I happen to own four, 4-inch springform pans.  They're so cute!  It's also nicer to give away a cute little cheesecake, rather than just a piece off a larger cheesecake. 

For this one, I omitted the chocolate ganache topping in favor of a spoonful of blueberries macerated in Canadian Whiskey and maple syrup.  Thanks, Jack, that beautiful bottle of Crown Royal Special Reserve was perfect for this occasion!  Cheers to all the Olympians!

For the Tuiles, I adapted Fine Cooking's Maple-Walnut Tuiles, substituting bits of maple and brown sugar bacon for the walnuts.  These were very easy to make and added a tasty garnish to my cheesecakes.

I enjoyed a very petite tasting of my Cheeesecake (my New Year's Resolution Eat Healthier Diet IS in progress), but I must say that the homemade graham crackers were the highlight of this challenge. Crispy wafers, with hints of honey and vanilla...they were easy to make and vastly superior to store-bought grahams.  I did not make the gluten-free version, but please visit our hostess, Lauren, at Celiac Teen if you're interested in her version, and other gluten-free recipes.

Graham Crackers

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Dry ingredients

Wet ingredients

Chilled butter

Chilled butter into the dry ingredients

Pulsed until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal

After wet ingredients are added

The dough

Wrapped in plastic

Refrigerated over night

Rolled out and cut into desired shapes.  Be generous with your flour as the dough can get sticky.

Graham crackers placed on parchment for baking

The crackers are then scored and pricked with a fork

Freshly baked grahams

Original Nanaimo Bars

The legendary Nanaimo Bar recipe, including the recipe for the graham crackers, can be found here.  You can read about the town of Nanaimo, and also find the recipe for Nanaimo Bars, here.   The following is for my Olympian Blueberry-Maple Cheesecake version.

Olympian Blueberry-Maple Cheesecakes
Inspired by the original Nanaimo Bar
(Makes four, 4-inch cheesecakes)

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened Cocoa
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Large Egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Dried Blueberries
1/4 cup Canadian Whisky
1/4 cup Maple Syrup

Place dried blueberries, Whisky and Maple Syrup in microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Set aside (drain just before adding to the mixture below).  Cover the round bottoms of four 4" springform pans with foil and snap bottoms back into place.

In a double-boiler, over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, drained blueberries, and chopped almonds. Press 1/4 of the mixture evenly into each springform pan. Refrigerate while you prepare the cheesecake filling.

Maple Cheesecake Filling
(Modified slightly from Kevin at Closet Cooking)

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one small orange

Beat the cream cheese and maple syrup until smooth; beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.  Add the vanilla extract and orange zest and incorporate.  Divide the mixture into the four springform pans.  Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes.  Turn oven off, open the oven door slightly, and allow cheesecakes to cool in the oven.  Refrigerate cheesecakes.

Chocolate Ganache
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over cheesecake and chill.

4" springform pans with foil covering the bottoms for easy removal of the cheesecakes after baking

Ingredients for the crust

Sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves

Thank you, Lauren, for an interesting, timely, and sweet Challenge!  I truly enjoyed reading more about Canada and look forward to visiting your beautiful country!  Fairmont Chateau, I am able to hop a flight at a moment's notice...

Be sure to visit The Daring Kitchen for information and recipes for this month's Challenge, and please do stop by some of our Daring Bakers' blogs to see what they came up with for this Challenge.  Again, a toast to all of the Olympic athletes!  Ummmm, good whiskey!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shelter from the Storm: Pork Chile Verde

San Diego was hit hard by rain storms most of last week.  Other than dealing with the idiots on the road, and high winds on the Coronado Bay Bridge, it was nice to experience some winter weather.  The storms retreated by the weekend, giving way to beautiful, sunny skies and slightly cooler temperatures.  Dooley and Diver were pleased to emerge from their Dogloos and frolic up and down Orange Avenue during our early morning walks, drying out their thick, double coats.  Can you say Wet Dogs?!

On Saturday, John and I took a drive to the Ocean Beach and Pt. Loma for some wave watching. 

Sunday was a day of relaxing and cooking, followed by an evening sharing comforting, warming bowls of Pork Chile Verde.  Last Fall, I ordered 20 lbs. of roasted New Mexican Hatch Green Chiles, through Bristol Farms, and we separated, vacuum-sealed, and froze 2 lb. packages.  I absolutely, positively, love the incredible flavor of these chiles in this dish.  It's a tad spicy for the faint-of-heart, but a dollop of sour cream tones it down.

Chile Verde
Adapted from Malo Restaurant's recipe
Serves 15

30 Hatch Green chiles, roasted
5 pounds pork shoulder
4 medium white onions, chopped
10 whole garlic cloves, crushed
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons dried oregano
28-oz can of whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, and the juice (I like San Marzano)
4 cups water
1.5 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon, Base Chicken
Flour Tortillas (I like buying the uncooked torillas, found in the refrigerated section, and cooking in a non-stick skillet right before serving)
Sour Cream, for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and coarsly chop, set aside.

Remove the fat from the pork shoulder and cut the fat into small pieces. In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, fry the fat until crisp, 4 or 5 minutes, and then remove the chunks of fat from the pan.

Sweat the onions and garlic in the same saute pan, cooking them in the residual pork fat. Cut the pork shoulder into 1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces, add them to the pan, and saute until browned. Add the bay leaves, oregano, tomatoes, and Hatch chiles. Simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, heat the water and chicken base in a medium saucepan and then pour it into the chile.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours or until tender. Remove the bay leaves.

Serve in bowls, and garnish with sour cream and fresh cilantro leaves. I also served homemade pinto beans on the side.

Bring on another deluge!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eating Las Vegas

I just returned from a Girly Weekend in Las Vegas, reconnecting with some girly friends and celebrating Susan's Birthday.  What an amazing place!  Of course, it's even more amazing when you know people who know people...

Six Coronado women were treated to a weekend of luxury in a stunning 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite at Hotel 32, located on the top floor of the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino.  We felt like princesses in our beautifully furnished suite.  My favorite amenities included soothing bubble baths in the hydrotherapy soaking tub, long showers with overhead panels that produce a gentle rainfall, gourmet chocolates on my pillow each night...

...and the private Lounge32, which offered evening wine, cocktails, and hors d'œuvres...

Cheese Plate with Fig & Honeycomb

Balsamic Mascarpone Strawberries

After arriving Friday afternoon, and relaxing in our suite with a few cocktails and hors d'œuvres, we then dressed for an evening on the town.  Three of us boarded the convenient Monte Carlo-Bellagio Monorail to the Bellagio for Cirque du Soleil's "O", an aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance.  This was my first Cirque du Soleil experience and it was amazing!  Following the show, we set off to MGM Grand for a little gambling and our VIP table at Studio 54, one of Las Vegas' hottest nightclubs.  Not really my scene, but very entertaining people-watching.  I was the first to retire to the suite, shortly past 2, with plans to get up early and venture out on my own. 

I was up early and ready to explore.  Since I had already donated enough of my hard-earned cash to the slots and tables, I made the decision to spend my money in some of incredible restaurants that have opened since my last visit.

Thomas Keller's Bouchon
The Venetian Resort & Spa

I commenced my culinary journey with brunch at Bouchon.  I sat at the French pewter bar, snapped a few photos, chatted with some of the waiters, and savored every bite of the signature Chicken and Waffles...roasted chicken alongside savory bacon and chive waffles, accompanied by Tahitian vanilla bean butter, syrup and Chasseur sauce.

The Bouchon Bakery is downstairs, in the foyer of the Venetian, and offers a larger selection of sweet and savory creations.  I was much too stuffed from brunch to sample anything, but stopped by to take a look.

A Michael Mina Restauarnt, Mandalay Bay

Our memorable Saturday evening began at StripSteak.  While waiting for our table, I ordered a Cucumber Cocktail...and, after finishing that one, I ordered another.  It was so mellow and refreshing.  The bartender shared the basic recipe:  Honeydew and Cantaloupe Melon-infused Vodka, Cucumber Essence, simple syrup and lime juice.

When we arrived at our table, we were pleasantly surprised to find two bottles of Silver Oak Cabernet waiting. 

Shortly thereafter, the Trio of Duck Fat Fries arrived, including the most amazing truffle oil fries with truffle aioli, clearly the favorite out of the three.

Foccacia, fresh from the oven, arrived in a small cast iron gratin pans

For my entrée, I wavered between the Prime Short Rib with Celariac-Horseradish Puree and Glazed Mirepoix, or one of the steaks.  Based on our waiter's recommendation, I chose the 8 oz. American Kobe Rib Cap.  It was the most incredible piece of meat I've ever tasted.  As a vegetable side, I shared the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Lardon.

Updated sidenote:  After returning home, I found this adaptation for Mina's Glazed Brussels Sprouts, published by the Washington Post, here.  I modified the quantities to make it for two, and omitted the juniper berries.  The dish came out quite delicious.  The apple takes out any bitterness and the bacon, well, bacon makes everything better.

Some of the other dishes gracing our table at StripSteak included...

18 Oz Dry-Aged Bone-In Rib Eye



Whole Fried Organic Chicken with Truffled Mac & Cheese, Caramelized Onion Jus

And a special dessert from the Chef (minus one bite before I could snap the photo)....Yes, I irritated everyone by taking photos of everything before we could eat!

Red Square
Mandalay Bay

After dinner, we were privileged to experience Red Square's exclusive private vodka vault and famous frozen icebar. Our hostess gave us faux fur coats and hats and then escorted us into the chilly vodka vault.   She returned intermittently to refill our glasses with Russian Vodka. We drank, laughed, and posed for silly pictures.

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill
Caesars Palace

On Sunday, some of our group flew back to San Diego.  Four of us packed our bags and moved over to Caesars Palace, to stay another night and watch the Chargers...lose to the Jets.  Although the game was disappointing for Charger fans, I was happy to take a break and slip in at Mesa Grill's bar for a late brunch.  I love Bobby Flay and wanted to try one of his signature dishes.  I went with the Spicy Chicken & Sweet Potato Hash with Poached Eggs and Green Chile Hollandaise.  This dish was so wonderful; I can't wait to recreate it at home!  I was pleased to find the recipe, here.

Caesars Palace

The two Italians in the group immediately voted on Rao's for dinner.  I was familiar with Rao's after the recent Feast of the Seven Fishes Throwdown between Bobby Flay and the Pellegrino family of Rao's.  I ordered Linguine al Vongole Marechiara, New Zealand Cockle Clams Sauteed with Garlic, White Wine and Parsley, topped with a touch of Tomatoes and Spice, and served over linguine. 

  Kerry ordered Fiocchetti al burro, salvia e amarena, Begger purse raviolis stuffed with pear & ricotta cheese in butter, sage and dried cramberries sauce

And Pammy ordered Le Polpette di Rao’s, Traditional Rao’s Meatballs served in Tomato Sauce.  These were the size of baseballs and oh so heavenly (sorry, no photo).

For dessert, we shared Profiteroles with Gelato and Chocolate Sauce, and Cannoli

After dinner, we were off to bed early so we could get up at sunrise and make our exit out of town before the rain storms hit.

With so many new restaurants, I barely made a dent in the three days I was there.  Next time, I must make it to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, where you can dine at the counter with a full view of the kitchen, Mario Batali's B & B Ristorante, and several others I could only walk past.


Thank you, Susan, for including me in your special birthday celebration, and thank you to all of my girls for an awesome weekend!
The Birthday Girl!

Bad, bad, birthday girl!