Weekly Feast: Blackberry Cheesecake (for my chicken friends and their fresh eggs)

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Confession….I am addicted to Facebook. Constantly online checking posts of friends and family and seeing how many likes and shares my posts are receiving. But more than that, I frequent a couple of backyard chicken keeping pages where newbies (I was one of these just 1 short year ago, and in many respects I still am) and seasoned veterans alike share photos, questions and advice with one another.

Just moments ago a question was posed about using our farm fresh eggs in cheesecake recipes. The poster’s cheesecake fell flat after coming out of the oven using her eggs and was wondering if that was the cause of the flop – sorry – not her flop, but the cheesecake’s flop.

With my 25+ year (has it really been that long??) culinary experience, I can offer this advice. It was not your eggs. Without knowing the exact recipe the poster used, I can only surmise that maybe it was a tad undercooked, or that it lacked some oomph from flour or cornstarch or other binding ingredient to help support the cheesecake structure as it baked and cooled.

My all time favorite cookbook is 23 years old. It’s been around almost as long as I’ve been cooking. I still refer to it every now and then, but I always go to it for this cheesecake recipe. I have modified it a smidge over the years to suit my preferences. This recipe has converted many people – including my husband who really dislikes anything made from cheese as a dessert item – to not only trying cheesecake again, but also asking for a second slice. I hope you like it too.

2 cups crushed graham crackers

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup butter – melted (no margarine please!)

Mix crumbs, sugar and butter in the bottom of a 10″ springform pan. Once combined, press crumbs firmly onto bottom of pan and 1″ up the sides. Set aside.

2 cups strained pureed blackberries (or blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or a combination of all your favorites)

I use frozen blackberries cooked with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Once berries are soft and liquid, strain 3/4 of the berries through a fine mesh strainer – I like having a few of the seeds from the berries in the cheesecake – it lets people know it’s from real berries – but that’s just my preference. If the seeds bother you, by all means strain all the berries and feed the seeds to your chickens!  Return the strained berry mixture to the saucepan and bring just to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons cornstarch to 3 tablespoons cold water. Pour the cornstarch slurry into the bubbling mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened. Cool to room temperature.

2 1/2 pounds cream cheese – softened (don’t go for the fat free or reduced fat variety – it’s dessert people!)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons corn starch

2 eggs (yes! use those eggs right from your chicken, or the eggs that have been sitting in your fridge for over a week. Both will make an equally delicious cheesecake)

Place cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch into the bowl of your mixer. Turn on lowest setting, scraping sides and mixing for 1-2 minutes. Turn up speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating between additions. Fold in berry puree.

Pour the cream cheese mixture into the crust and bake in a preheated 325F oven for 55 minutes. This recipe does not need a water bath. You do not need to leave it in the oven with the door cracked (assumably to preventing cracking – kind of ironic, isn’t it?). You can check if the cheesecake is done by gently touching the surface of the cake with your finger. It should be set but still slightly jiggly (think jello) when you shake the pan. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until cooled. Refrigerate for 4 hours to completely chill and set the cheesecake.

This cake is lovely just as it is, but is extra special with a little sweetened whipped cream, or some extra berry puree (we call this coulis in the culinary world) drizzled over the top. If you bought fresh berries and a sprig of mint these are nice touches too.

As I said it was just moments ago that the question was asked about the fresh eggs. I’m craving cheesecake now but I am lacking a couple of the key ingredients – berries and cream cheese. I always have plenty of fresh eggs though!

Weekly Feast: Ginger Garlic Pork Stir Fry

Ginger Garlic Pork Stir Fry

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Rice

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups Jasmine Rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium to large sauce pan. Add rice, stirring briefly. Return to boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Rice should have absorbed all the water and be light and fluffy. Keep warm while you cook the stir fry.

Stir Fry

3 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil – divided

12 ounces boneless pork loin – cut into strips

1/4 cup tempura batter powder

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds

1/8 teaspoon dried ginger

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 cloves garlic – minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh or frozen ginger – minced

1/2 cup green bell pepper – about 1/4 medium pepper

1/2 cup red bell pepper – about 1/4 medium pepper

1/2 cup julienned carrot

1/2 cup thinly sliced zucchini

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce

1/4 cup water

1 egg – beaten

Place tempura batter, black pepper,  ginger powder and garlic powder into small zip top bag. Gently shake to mix. Add pork strips and shake until all strips are coated. Shake off excess coating.

Place large saute pan over medium high heat. Add 3 teaspoons oil to hot pan. Place strips of pork into hot pan being careful not to crowd. Allow pork to cook for 2-3 minutes before turning to brown on all sides. The tempura powder will make the pork strips crispy as they cook. Continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until pork is no longer pink. Add all the vegetables, minced garlic and ginger. Cook for 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally until vegetables are crisp tender. Add soy, hoisin and water. Stir to combine.

In small non-stick pan, place 1/2 teaspoon oil over medium high heat. Scramble egg and place in hot pan tilting to allow egg to run slightly up the edges of the pan to make a very thin omelet. Cook for 1-2 minutes until egg is set. Using a rubber spatula carefully lift omelet and flip to cook the other side. Remove from the pan and cut into long strips.

Divide hot rice between 4 warm plates. Top with Stir Fry and egg strips. Serves 4.

Weekly Feast – Ultimate Weekday Indulgent Breakfast

OK…I am spoiled. Blessed even. I live in Central Virginia in a beautiful rural setting.  I have lived in sunny Florida, the Canadian Rocky Mountains, small towns and busy Washington DC / Northern Virginia. By far, this is my favorite place and I’m glad to call it home.

My philosophy on food is simple. Use the best ingredients you can afford, share it with those you love, and savor the time you have together in preparing and eating your creations.

We raise chicken for eggs and meat, which allows me to cross these items off my regular grocery list, but that also means we make regular trips to the feed store instead. It’s a tradeoff for sure, but if you have not tasted a fresh from the hen, naturally produced egg – vibrant golden yolk – you are really missing out on a treat.

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I give you pure morning comfort food. The foundation is sliced Cheddar Beer Bread topped with Spinach Artichoke Spread and a baked egg. Warm, gooey, cheesy, toasty and utter delight. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to make all this in the morning. A little forethought yields you bragging rights around the watercooler, no matter what day of the week it is. Make the bread one night for dinner, saving some for breakfast, and make the Spinach Artichoke Spread as a weekend treat shared with friends and family, saving a little for a weekday splurge.

Cheddar Beer Bread

1 bottle beer (12 fl oz)

3 cups All Purpose Flour

1 cup shredded Sharp Cheddar

1 1/2 Tablespoons Baking Powder

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare 9″ loaf pan by greasing and flouring bottom only. Mix all ingredients except melted butter in a large bowl. Mixture will be sticky. Spread batter into loaf pan. Top with melted butter.  Bake for 50-60 minutes. Butter will be absorbed into bread during baking, leaving a crunchy crust and firm moist crumb inside.

Store leftover bread in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Leftovers will keep for 6-7 days. Fantastic sliced and toasted with a smidge of melted butter.

Spinach Artichoke Spread

2 tablespoons butter

10 ounces frozen chopped spinach – thawed or 1 pound fresh baby spinach – washed and stems removed

1 can artichoke hearts – drained and chopped

8 ounces cream cheese – cut into 1″ cubes

16 ounces sour cream

3/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese

Over medium heat melt butter in a large saute pan. Add thawed spinach, cream cheese, sour cream, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir and cook until cheeses are melted and mixture is bubbling. Carefully fold chopped artichoke hearts into mixture. Top with additional Parmesan. Serve with toasted Pita Bread triangles, crackers or sliced french bread.

Ok….now that you have the foundations of this dish here’s how you put it all together.

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Spinach Artichoke Baked Egg

1/2″ slice Cheddar Beer Bread – toasted

1/4 cup Spinach Artichoke Spread

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400F. Place pre-toasted bread slice on baking tray. Spread spinach mixture atop bread, creating a wall around the edges to hold the egg in the center of the bread. Crack egg in the middle and sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste. Bake in the hot oven for 5-7 minutes. Egg should come out gooey in the center – assuming you like it this way – and the spinach artichoke spread will be warm and gooey while the bread is crusty and crunchy.

This breakfast will engage all your senses as you dig in.