Sublime Lemony Goat Cheese Cheesecake

goat on the roof of Al Johnson's

Here’s a photo of a goat on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Door County, WI.  I took this photo the weekend my husband and I got engaged (swoon). Here’s a link to the Goat Cam where you can check out what those crazy goats are up to.  If you look now (January 29, 2014), you’ll see a goatless root covered with snow, but check back in May and you’ll see bright green grass and maybe some fine-lookin’ goat specimens! Henyway…

Why am I yucking it up about goats? Because I made this obnoxiously good goat cheese cheesecake yesterday. Yes that’s a mouthful, which is what you’ll want to have many of once you try this recipe.

goat cheese cheesecake

I had never made a cheesecake before. I thought it would be complicated and easy to fail at, but in reality it wasn’t too tough. Having a stand mixer made it simpler, as the recipe asks you to whip eggs whites to form soft peaks. And herein my friends lies the secret to the cloud-like texture of this cheesecake: whipped egg whites. Traditionally, cheesecake is dense, right? This one is a whole other animal.  It’s almost like cheesecake and angel food cake shacked up and popped out a lovechild. This lovechild happens to be flecked with sunny lemon zest, which plays well with the tanginess of goat cheese, the true star of this dessert.

Fresh goat cheese, which is usually sold in a log-shaped package, is soft and similar in consistency to cream cheese, but less dense. Aside from the unique flavor it lends, goat cheese is also a nice choice because it’s easier for some people to digest than cheeses made with cow milk. Goat milk only contains very small amounts of alpha-S1, an allergenic casein protein in cow milk. Goat milk also has less lactose than cow milk, potentially making it a better option for those with lactose-intolerance. (If you are allergic to cow milk, speak with your practitioner before trying the goat version.)

It’s been cold here, cold enough to call off school and close local businesses.  But the sun’s been pouring through the windows, the snow’s been sparkling and I can see a tiny speck of light that is spring at the end of this frigid tunnel.  All is well; there’s seven eighths of a lemon-flecked crustless goat cheese cheesecake in my fridge.

goat cheese cheesecake 2

This recipe comes from Bon Appetit, which I modified slightly by using whole wheat pastry flour rather than all purpose

Ingredients:

Unsalted butter (for pan)

3/4 cup sugar plus more for pan, plus 1 tsp for egg whites

12 ounces fresh soft goat cheese, room temperature

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks

3 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

mixed berries for topping (optional)

Special Equipment: 9-inch-diameter springform pan

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 350°. Butter springform pan and dust lightly with sugar.

2) Using an electric (stand or hand) mixer, beat at medium speed: goat cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes (take a taste!)

3) Add egg yolks in three additions, beating at medium speed to blend, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Turn off mixer and stir in flour by hand until just blended.  Set mixture aside.

4) Using clean, dry beaters (or whisk attachment), whip egg whites and 1 tsp sugar in a separate bowl until soft peaks form.

5) Fold half of the egg whites into goat cheese and yolk mixture just until blended; fold in remaining egg whites just until blended.  The “batter” should be foamy and light; pour it into the springform pan and tap lightly to level.

6) Bake cheesecake 30-35 minutes until the top is set but still jiggles a bit in the center 30. (I let mine go a bit too long; pull it out as soon as edges are slightly browned.)  Transfer cheesecake to cooling rack; let cool completely in pan before removing outer springform ring.

Serve cold or at room temperature, topped with berries if you so desire.

Nutrition information, courtesy of Bon Appetit:

8 servings, 1 serving contains: Calories: 240 Fat: 13g Saturated Fat 7g Cholesterol 180mg Carbohydrates 22 g Dietary Fiber 1g Total Sugars 17g Protein 13g Sodium 210 mg

goat cheese cheesecake 3 IMG_0108

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Syrian Sliha aka Nutty Pomegranate Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl

I got this cookbook, see?

Grain Mains cookbook

And I’ve been browsing its pages over the past couple weeks, filling my head with visions of barley mac n’ cheese, polenta coffee cake, and quinoa date bread.  There has been a mini-miracle as well.  Do you ever have those quietly lovely internal celebrations when you read through an enticing recipe and realize you presently have every ingredient it calls for? I do. I did! And so I made this.

IMG_0054

The cookbook titles this recipe Syrian Sliha.  According to the authors, Sliha is a dish eaten by Damascus Jews to celebrate a baby’s first teething… interesting, no?  It wasn’t so much the name of the dish or its backstory that grabbed me, but the beautiful array of colors and textures boasted by the gorgeous full-page photograph.

…and the fact that I auspiciously had every last thing on the somewhat exotic ingredient list.

pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts

This grain salad of sorts brings some serious flavor to the breakfast table.  Its lead character is soft white wheat berries*, a varietal typically used to make one of my favorite flours: whole wheat pastry.

soft white wheat berries

Wheat berries are satisfyingly chewy and slightly sweet with a hint of nuttiness which echoes the toasty pistachios, pine nuts and walnuts. Then of course come the toasted fennel seeds, lacing the dish with a haze of anise, the shredded coconut, lending tropicalness and texture, and pomegranate arils: the perfect juicy-tangy foil for all those rich nuts. Cinnamon, maple syrup, and coarse salt round out the closest thing your taste buds may ever experience to a full-on breakfast rock symphony in surround sound.

Oh please, don’t let me forget the yogurt.  After everything I just said, this dish is nothing without a very generous dollop of whole milk yogurt atop its colorful peak.  I’m not kidding. If you don’t have access to yogurt, don’t even make this.  Sliha on, Wayne!

Syrian Sliha with yogurt

*Wheat berries are fully intact wheat kernels (aside from the inedible hull) and are the most unprocessed version of wheat you can buy in the supermarket. Wheat berries, like many whole grains, are an excellent source of fiber and B vitamins.  They also contain some healthy fats, yeehaw!  Because of their toughness, wheat berries typically work best when soaked before cooking.  Anywhere between 8 and 12 hours of soaking in lots of room temperature water should do the trick.  I like to soak and cook a big batch of grains on the weekend to help me through busy weeknight dinners.

Syrian Sliha aka Nutty Pomegranate Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl

Note: I altered “Grain Mains’” recipe by reducing the amount of nuts by half (for calories’ and economy’s sake) while bumping up the coconut and pomegranate.  I chose maple syrup in place of white sugar and toasted the fennel seeds and added them at the end rather than boiling them with the wheat berries as the original recipe suggests.

Ingredients:

1 cup soft white wheat berries, soaked for 8-12 hours, drained and rinsed

2 Tbsp fennel seeds

½ cup shelled, unsalted pistachios

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup pomegranate seeds

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 Tbsp real maple syrup

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp coarse salt, like kosher

plenty of plain whole milk yogurt for topping

 Method:

1. Dump the soaked and drained wheat berries into a medium saucepan and cover grains by at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grains are just tender, about 50 minutes. The wheat berries should barely dance in the water while cooking. Drain the grains in a small-holed colander.

2. While the wheat berries cook, combine the fennel seeds, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the nuts and seeds, stirring occasionally and guarding them with a watchful eye and alert nose, until they are lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Pour the wheat berries into a big bowl, maybe the same one you soaked them in. Then stir in the nuts, seeds, pomegranate arils, coconut, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. Let the Sliha come to room temperature before enjoying (with a giant dollop of plain whole milk yogurt, that is!) or “store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for breakfasts (or snacks) in the week to come.” –Grain Mains

Syrian Sliha with yogurt 2

Sliha with yogurt

Sliha beauty shot with yogurt, so good

Homemade Almond Milk and Almond Meal Thumbprint Cookies – plus Quinoa for Breakfast!

I love the fresh feeling that a new year swirls into life.  Even though I don’t have a laundry list of resolutions this go round, I’m laced with the desire to take small steps of self improvement.  One that’s been on my mind is increasing my self-sufficiency, becoming less reliant on convenience and ready-made products and more apt to make things myself or improvise with something I’ve already got.  It’s so easy for me to go to the store any time and buy most ANY thing I want or need, but what if I first comb through a few forgotten basement alternatives or YouTube how to fix the thing I already have, or gosh, even just hit up Goodwill before heading to Target?  I figure this could be good for my soul and my pocketbook.

Another small change I’d like to work on is generating less food waste.  This summer I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal which embraces economical cooking: not wasting the parts of food we tend to throw away.  I tried some of her tricks but then got a little lazy (and also tired of all the broccoli stems and cauliflower cores building up in my fridge), but I’m willing to try again with some New-Year-zaza energy!

The recipes that follow are manifestations of these two small changes: homemade almond milk to prove I can do it myself (without carageenan and potassium sorbate to boot!) and almond meal thumbprint cookies to showcase how delicious and worth keeping the “byproduct” of almond milk can be.  Then, in celebration of all our New Year clean-eating intentions, there’s a recipe for tummy-friendly quinoa breakfast porridge simmered with chocolate almond milk and topped with pecans and cinnamon.  Happy New Year.

freshly soaked almonds

Homemade Almond Milk

Ingredients: 

2 cups almonds

6 cups filtered water

pinch of salt

optional add-ins: cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, maple syrup

almond nuggets of joy

Method:

1. In a large bowl, cover almonds with 2 inches of water.  Let soak for 8-12 hours.

2. Drain and rinse almonds.

3. In a blender, combine 2 cups almonds and 6 cups filtered water. Blend on high speed for 3 minutes, or until almonds are completely pulverized and liquid is milky in color and consistency.  Add salt and any flavorings and blend on low until incorporated.

4. To strain almond milk, set a strainer over a large bowl or pitcher. Line strainer with cheesecloth.  Slowly pour the milk from the blender into the lined strainer, watching to make sure it doesn’t overflow.

5. Allow milk to drain for a minute or so.  Now, the fun part: gather cheesecloth ends to form a pouch, making sure the almond meal is totally enclosed in the cloth.  Next, with clean hands squeeze the pouch in all different spots, wringing out every last drop of milk.

6. Transfer your almond milk to an airtight container and store in the fridge.  Shake well before use.  It should last about a week!

*To utilize the leftover almond meal, heat your oven to 200°F.  Pour almond meal out of the cheesecloth onto a baking sheet with raised sides and spread it into an even layer.  Dry almond meal in the oven for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10.  Almond meal is done when fluffy and mostly dry but not crispy or sand-like.*

almond meal

Almond Meal Thumbprint Cookies 

makes about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup natural cane sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

¼ tsp sea salt

almond meal from 3 cups almonds (~2 cups meal)

jam or preserves of choice (I used raspberry jam, because raspberry and almonds are the KimYe of baking, duh.)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, combine softened butter and sugar.  Whisk until light and fluffy.  Stir in the egg, vanilla, almond extract, and salt.  Add the almond meal and stir to combine, making sure there are no dry spots.

3. Gently roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place on your cookie sheet at least two inches apart. Make a “thumbprint” in the middle of each cookie.

4. Bake cookies for 9-10 minutes or until they’re just beginning to crack and brown slightly.

5. While cookies are still cooling, fill the thumbprints with about ½ – 1 teaspoon of jam.  Cool completely before serving.  I also made some without jam and they are almost as delicious.

almond meal cookies IMG_0746

Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

Ingredients:

½ cup quinoa, rinsed

¾ cup almond milk

¼ cup water

¼ tsp cardamom

½ tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

toppings of choice (see below)

Method:

1. In a small saucepan, combine quinoa, milk, water, spices and salt.

2. Bring mixture to a boil for a few seconds, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover, cooking for 15 minutes.

3. Turn off heat and allow quinoa to sit covered for another 15 minutes.  After sitting, remove pan lid and fluff quinoa with a fork.

4. Serve this quinoa porridge warm with more homemade almond milk poured over the top (chocolate almond milk preferred!).  Other yummy toppings include: chopped nuts, banana slices, maple syrup, and more cinnamon.

quinoa for breakfast