Inga's Indulgence

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Smokin' Good

Call me old fashioned, but as with grilling, I believe that smoking is a man's job.

Alright fine, you can call me lazy because rather than going through the gazillion steps it takes to smoke something, I choose to cheat with a nifty secret ingredient called liquid smoke. This stuff is genius, though I must admit to some rolling of eyes and raising of the nose during my first encounter with it at the market.

For some reason, seeing a bottle of literal liquid smoke triggered the same reaction that I would expect to get from let's say a bottle of liquid love or liquid brawn. I perceived a complex, smokey flavor as something that needed to be worked at, so I didn't buy into this bottle business...initially. I bought it later that day (curiosity got the best of me). And boy am I glad I did, because I'll say it again, this stuff is genius.

It all started with a craving for the smoked almonds that I used to make while working at Hudson Yards Catering. There was a separate "smoking" room where all the goodies for Blue Smoke, another joint pertaining to Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, were...well, smoked.
The almonds were my favorite, and after years of never having smoked almonds quite like those, it was time to intervene.

Cheater's Smoked Almonds
(yield: 3 cups)

3 cups almonds, unsalted
4 tbsp water
3 tbsp hickory flavored liquid smoke
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar

In a large bowl, mix together water and liquid smoke. Add almonds, and toss to coat. Let almonds soak in mixture overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Toss almonds with oil, 1/2 tbsp salt, and 1/2 tbsp sugar.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1/2 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar, and set aside.

Spread almonds in a flat, even layer onto prepared sheet pan. Bake 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. While they are still warm, toss the almonds with reserved salt/sugar mixture. Let cool completely before eating (resist the urge to nibble).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cheesecake Chronicles

It's pretty hard to make cheesecake taste bad. With ingredients like cream cheese, sugar, graham crackers, some question the baking part, grab a spoon and shoot for the bowl instead.

But more often than not, we find ourselves eating mediocre cheesecake. The reason for its mediocrity is most often the texture of the cake. Too dry, and you find yourself nudging bits of cake from the roof of your mouth; too soft, you feel like you're eating cream cheese pudding. 
Cheesecake, if done right, should be a very balanced dessert in every sense of the word. Tangy, sweet, smooth with a slight resistance from its graham cracker crust - it should be a culmination of contrasts that just work well together. 

Now if the cheesecake recipe below could afford to be any more decadent than it already is, it would have to be escorted out of the room. So I decided substitute half of the cream cheese for neufchatel cheese. Neufchatel has about 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese, and honestly, after a series of taste tests I really couldn't detect a significant difference. So why not?! Plus, it has a higher moisture content than cream cheese which makes the texture of this cake nothing less than awesome.

Beyond Ultimate Cheesecake
(yield: 10-12 servings)

4 tbsp butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
2, 8 oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
2, 8 oz pkg neufchatel cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp almond liquor
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

Grease a 9" spring-form pan with 1 tbsp of butter. Combine remaining 3 tbsp of butter with graham cracker crumbs. Reserve 3 tbsp of graham cracker mixture for topping, and press remaining portion into pan. Bake at 325°F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Combine cream cheese and neufchatel cheese with sugar. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat until completely softened. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix. Add sour cream and almond liquor. Mix until completely smooth. Pour mixture into the cooled graham cracker crust.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
Wrap pan with two or three layers of aluminum foil to completely cover any cracks. Place into a large roasting pan and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the spring form pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn oven off and let cake cool inside for another hour.

 Place chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 1 minute, mixing every 15 seconds, until chocolate is melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the cheesecake, and sprinkle with reserved graham cracker crumbs. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.