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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Butternut Squash Pasta with Goat Cheese and Toasted Sage Pecans

I spend more time than the average person thinking about food, I’m almost certain of it.  Before falling asleep and upon waking, I’m deciding what breakfast is going to be.  At school, at work, while making other food, I’m concocting dinner ideas, sometimes pondering ways to eek out a meal from the few things I’ve got left lying around the fridge when grocery shopping hasn’t happened for a while, other times staring at a lone butternut squash from the CSA box, trying to think of a novel way to use all that remains of our 20-week adventure of eating local produce.

I wanted to honor this beautiful squash, this bright orange beauty that turned dewy and permeated the kitchen with a sweet, musky scent as soon as I sliced it open.  So I invented something, though I’m sure the flavors have met before in other kitchen.  It’s something I’d call comfort food – like macaroni and cheese, but better.  I scribbled the game plan on an index card and got to work.

This is the kind of food we want to fill our bellies with when the weather gets feisty.  It’s pasta that has lots going on (which I love since I get bored easily when eating a lot of the same thing.)  It’s goat-cheese creamy, pecan crunchy, sage earthy, nutmeg spicy and butternut sweet, and a little nutty thanks to the addition of brown butter which in my opinion really put it over the edge of awesome.  To counter the richness of the dish, serve it with an easy mixed green salad and some pear slices.

Butternut squash and goat cheese pasta with toasted sage pecans

Prep: 35 mins   Cooking time:  a hour or so

Serves 4, probably with some leftovers

Roasted squash:

1 butternut squash, halved with seeds scooped out

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

1 teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pasta

8 oz (1/2 package) whole wheat linguini noodles

1 cup pasta water, reserved

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 leaves sage, en chiffonade

½ cup pecans, chopped

¾ cup crumbled goat cheese

freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Pre-heat oven to 475° F.

Place squash halves skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Rub squash flesh (inside part) with coconut oil or butter; you want a nice even layer of fat.

Sprinkle squash liberally with coarse salt and grated nutmeg.

Place squash (on baking sheet) into the pre-heated oven and roast until you can easily poke a fork through the thickest part of the squash’s flesh, (but squash is somewhat firm, not mushy) about 30-40 minutes.

Allow squash to cool.

Remove skin from squash. It should peel off pretty easily, but you may need to slice some off with your knife too.

Dice squash into ½ inch cubes and store in fridge until you’re ready to prepare the meal.  (I made my squash in the morning, went about my day, and then prepared this dish that evening for dinner.)

Boil a large pot of salted water for pasta.

Once water is boiling, add half a package (8 oz) whole wheat linguini noodles.

While pasta cooks melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over low heat.  Continue to cook butter very slowly until it takes on a nutty, almost sweet smell.

Add the garlic and onion to browned butter and turn up heat slightly to sauté the alliums for about 5 minutes under tender and slightly brown.

Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to skillet, allowing spices to toast for a minute.

Add sage and pecans, and a drizzle of olive oil if things are getting dry.  Stir and cook for about 3 minutes, until sage is wilted and nuts are toasted and shiny.

When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

Return pasta to pot and add cubed squash, goat cheese and half the pasta water.  Turn on heat to medium low and stir to combine.

Add the pecan and sage mixture from skillet into pasta pot, making sure to get all the butter and browned bits using a spatula.  Add remaining pasta water as needed and stir to combine.

Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Top each serving with a few whole pecans and a bit of goat cheese.   Enjoy!