27 November, 2013

Our 1st Triple D....

If I told you that my Mister and I have NEVER been out with another couple on a double date here in Ottawa, would you believe me?  I bet you wouldn't.  But it is the God's honest truth.  I was beginning to think the practice might have died out.  Boy!...am I glad to find out it hasn't.  A few of months back a couple from church asked us to join them some night at a little Indian place in the Bayshore area.  But between having a newborn, a road trip home to Minnesota, and our recent anniversary tryst "around the lake"....we haven't really been about in the area to do anything with anyone, or if we were here we just weren't able to get away.  A situation I was determined to remedy!!

We finally made plans for a Friday evening.  Our parents (the Mister's) were in town to visit...another first!  We had someone to stay with the children, a plan, and most importantly....an awesome couple to nosh with!  With all the bases covered the Mister and I struck out for our night on the town; our destination, Taj Indian Cuisine.

We arrived shortly before the other couple so I would be able to get the photos of the inside without holding up our ordering and eating flow.  Unfortunately, the manager on staff that night wouldn't allow shots of the inside.  It wasn't too busy, so that wasn't the reason.  I still can't figure out why she was nervous or resistant to it, but it makes ME nervous to eat somewhere when people don't want their business to have exposure.  I've only been to ONE place in town that flat out refused photos inside...  But, make that two.

The best way I can describe the inside to you is that there are about 12 tables, varying in size from tables for 2 to tables for 4.  There were benches along each of the side walls of the main dining area and most of the seating could easily be maneuvered to seat larger groups than 4.  There was intricate woodworking detail on the walls and typical Indian mural art paintings on the wall.  I know for sure, at least one of the paintings I saw was identical to one I saw in an Indian place in Oklahoma City we used to dine in regularly and also in an Indian place in Montgomery, Alabama that we dined in once.  There was catchy music playing at just the right volume; you could hear it but still hold a conversation over it comfortably.  Even though I knew we were near to where the kitchen was, there was very little noise coming from there for most of our evening.  It is a nice, quaint little place to eat; more intimate than your average place.  Just be prepared for the low lighting.  I wasn't.  My eyes adjusted of course but it took quite a while.  In fact...my camera (even though it is a Canon) had quite a job shooting in such low light.  

Immediately upon being seated our waitress brought us a basket of papadum and a bowl of chutney, which is typical and the norm of every Indian place I have ever been to.  The chutneys have always been different from place to place that come in the beginning...but I have no complaints about that.

Papadum & Chutney
We spent quite a lot of time looking at their menu, it was quite large.  I knew I would order lamb and I could almost predict my Mister was going to go for chicken.  I was quite impressed with the array of dishes.  Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free...  They are all set to feed ANY sort of food allergy or specialty diet from the looks of their menu.  But I still canNOT get over seeing beef on Indian menus.  I'm not sure if it is the "forbidden fruit" aspect of the meat but...it never fails, every place we go for Indian, beef is a choice on the menu and I refuse to order it out of respect of the Indian culture.  There is only ONE state in India that allows beef to be slaughtered and they are still trying to stop it from happening there.  Most of the country eats vegetarian and those that don't eat primarily fish, chicken, or lamb.  I have heard of whole goats being at special events like weddings and so forth.  But, never...EVER beef.  *shrug*  Oh well...no one seems to care about that subject quite as much as I do.  So, we'll move it along...

I was having a rough time choosing between Rogan Josh and Lamb Korma.  Being that I make them BOTH at home it worries me sometimes that it has forever ruined take out of either one of them for me.  I knew I was making Butter Chicken for the in-laws the next day as well.  Decisions, decisions....  I finally went with Rogan Josh (medium heat) with vegetable pakora, vegetable samosa, garlic naan, and an order of basmati rice.  The Mister did in fact go with Chicken Tikka Masala.  No surprises there.  He also requested medium heat.  It is loverly that you can do that and they ASK you so you don't forget and end up with a spice level that just knocks your boots off.  Our double date couple put in their order and we got to chatting.  I had almost forgotten what it was like to talk in sentences that were more than 4 words long and talking without being interrupted every other word by a 3.5 year old.  Heaven I tell you!

Shortly after our friends got their food, our appetizers came to the table.

 Vegetable Samosa & Vegetable Pakora
Mint Chutney & Tamarind Sauce

My Mister and I cut a samosa in half and shared it.  We offered pakoras to our friends and they seemed to enjoy them.  The pakora was passable, but I was surprised at how mild the seasoning in the samosa was.  Which is to say, I couldn't detect any heat or seasoning of any kind.  Typically when I eat samosa by the time I swallow there is a familiar heat that comes on me, right at the back of my throat.  That didn't happen this time.  It didn't ruin the experience or anything, but it was noticeable.  It is something that I always ready myself for just in case some place's idea of "mild" half kills me.  Everything was crispy and warm; the mint chutney and tamarind sauce complimented the gems nicely.  We hadn't had our appetizers on the table for very long before our main courses and garlic naan showed up.

Rogan Josh

Basmati Rice

Garlic Naan

Chicken Tikka Masala

My Mister and I ate family style, sharing what we ordered with each other...so you're going to hear about the whole shebang!  I'll start off with my Rogan Josh.  The heat was what I asked for, it was definitely a notch above mild but didn't kill me.  The lamb...  *drool*  ...just thinking about how tender it was makes me want it again.  But that is where the love story ends for me with this dish.  Rogan Josh is a Kashmiri dish.  Truly authentic Rogan Josh doesn't have tomato in it.  The color is achieved with Kashmiri mirch and...sometimes ratanjot depending on who is making it.  My Rogan Josh was definitely made with tomato which is more of the British way of making the dish.  Technically there is nothing wrong with that, but is DOES change the flavor quite a bit.  When you have tomato in the sauce it adds a sweet that wasn't meant to be there.  There was a good cover of oil on the top as there should have been but, I can tell you that it was NOT mustard oil in this dish.  I will say simply that it tasted "okay".  But it wasn't what I have come to expect for Rogan Josh.

Our rice was pleasant and had a proper nutty note to it.  Rice is rice...  There isn't much to say about it.  It wasn't dry.  I just still have a hard time with the concept of paying for something that *should* come with the dish to begin with.

The garlic naan was actually fabulous.  Naan is usually my favorite part of the evening, but I think it is because it gives me the opportunity to eat with my hands shamelessly.  I dipped it into my husband's masala and scarfed it down like there was no tomorrow.  It was light and flavorful, everything naan should be.

My Mister's Masala sauce was proper...I couldn't complain about the flavor at all.  Perfect in every way!  The chicken wasn't as moist and tender as the lamb was for me.  In fact, I found to it to be quite tough.  Lucky for me, I didn't have to finish it, my Mister did.

I was too busy enjoying our conversation with our friends to be disenchanted by the food just then.  After we both seemed to have our fill of the food we chatted for what must have been almost another hour.  Ask me if I noticed the time...  Not a chance!  I didn't want the evening to end but...everyone at the table had children to get home to.  When the bill came to the table I was surprised that our food came to over 60 loonies before tip.  Wowza!  Not that I am opposed to spending money on food...I just had never spent that much on Indian food.  Nearly 20 loonies for a medium sized bowl of food??  Even if it was because mine was lamb...there was only 1 loonie difference between the price of my lamb and the price of my Mister's chicken.

Would we go back to Taj?  Never.  Taj certainly had prompt service and the atmosphere was relaxing...but that is where the enjoyment ended for me.  The food needs work and I am quite surprised they have been in business SO long.  I am quite aware that from region to region...even just a few miles down a road the same dish will be made differently than it is in a neighboring town.  But, there are some standard dishes that are not open to interpretation.  Rogan Josh is one of them.    Kashmiri mirch is the backbone of the dish and tomato in it..canned tomato in Rogan Josh is sacrilege in India.  Usually I leave the door open to the possibility that the chef was having an off day, but when you factor in the decades that this place has been open and you take a look around at the clientele it was quite easy to notice that evening there wasn't a single native Indian in there eating dinner.  That is a sure sign that you are unfortunately in the wrong place for Indian food my friend.  If you are given the choice between Taj and somewhere else, try the other place.  For the cost and the product you'll most likely be more satisfied elsewhere.

Taj Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

20 November, 2013

Harvest Cheesecake

My favorite season came, lingered only for a short time and is on its way out as I type.  Autumn, oh how I love every single little thing about it.  The cold, crisp air, the beautifully rich colors that the trees put on display for the world to see, and of course...the days become shorter, which means less sunlight.  I LOVE cloudy, gloomy days.  Sometimes I think I was raised on the wrong continent...England seems to suit my likes and dislikes for weather better than any place I've lived in all of my life.  But that is a story for another day...

One of the ingredients that pops up MOST in harvest season cooking and baking is pumpkin.  The ONE thing I can't seem to get my Mister to fall in love with.  I will admit, when I was a child...if it wasn't chocolate, I wasn't interested.  But, I had a momma that was SUPER "gung ho" about making sure her children had a diverse palate.  Momma succeeded.  You can thank her later...

So, I thought of one of my favorite sinful desserts...and how could I make it say "It's autumn up in here!!" quickly...and easily.  I had seen a recipe from the Cook's Country folks that was a great start for the pumpkin cheesecake part but...it looked so rich (In fact they called for a cup of cream for the filling...I didn't add it), it needed something acidic with it.  That is how the Harvest Cheesecake was born.  I know, I know.  I JUST posted a cheesecake recipe 2 weeks ago.  But c'mon people...a harvest spiced graham cracker crust, a fabulously creamy pumpkin cheesecake center, caramel apple topping, and garnished with some pecan halves...  Excuse me while I wipe the drool off of my face. You go ahead and wipes yours too and we'll move on...

Although pumpkin was one of the easiest directions to take this cheesecake, the pumpkin was the most challenging part.  Pumpkin is quite watery...water doesn't mix well with cream, in fact not at all.  So to get around this I took my 14 ounces of pumpkin and put it in a kitchen towel, twisted, and squeezed.  It wrung out the water JUST like it would for grated zucchini or cucumber before making it into cake or tea bread.  Pumpkin is so fibrous that it worked like a charm!  And I know, I know....my last recipe post was a cheesecake as well.  I have one thing to say about that.  So what??  Next week is Thanksgiving, you should really have one of these on the table...

Harvest Cheesecake

9 whole graham crackers
3 T. organic cane sugar
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
6 T. unsalted butter, melted

1 1/3 c. organic cane sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
15 oz can of organic pumpkin puree, NOT pumpkin pie filling
3 oz. pkgs. of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 T. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
5 large eggs, at room temperature

Caramel Sauce
1 c. organic cane sugar or brown cane sugar
6 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. brown rice or corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. heavy cream

3 granny smith apples; peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. unsalted butter

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 1/2 c. whipping cream
3 T. organic powdered confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
dash of salt, optional

pecans for garnish, optional

Before beginning anything else, squeeze the excess water out of your pumpkin so it is ready when YOU are for the filling to be made.  Just drape a thin kitchen towel into a small bowl, use a rubber spatula to get all the pumpkin out of the can and onto the towel, then gather it up like a ball in your hand and twist the excess towel around at the top of the ball until little to NO water is dripping out of the bottom of the towel any longer.  Plop the pumpkin into a clean dish and set it aside for the filling portion of the show.

For the crust, adjust oven rack to middle of the oven and preheat oven to 325 F. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse crackers, sugar, and spices in food processor until evenly and finely ground, 30 seconds. Drizzle melted butter into processor while it is on the lowest setting, mix until crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn crumbs into prepared springform pan and, using your hand, spread crumbs into even layer. Using something with a flat bottom (like a ramekin or a drinking glass) press crumbs evenly into pan bottom. Bake for 15 minutes, and then cool on wire rack while you making your filling.

To make the filling, first whisk sugar, spices, and salt in small bowl; set aside.  Then, beat cream cheese at medium speed in a stand mixer to break up and soften slightly for 1 minute. Scrape beater and bottom and sides of bowl well with rubber spatula. Add about one third of sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute.  Scrape the bowl and add remaining sugar in two additions, scraping bowl again after each addition. Add in your drained pumpkin, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat at medium speed until combined, about 45 seconds and scrape your bowl again. Add 3 of the eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute and scrape the bowl again (this is always important...cream cheese likes to stick to metal and hide). Add remaining 2 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 45 seconds; scrape bowl.  Using rubber spatula, scrape bottom and sides of bowl and give final stir by hand.

Set springform pan with cooled crust on 18-inch-square doubled layer heavy-duty foil and wrap bottom and sides of the springform pan with foil; set wrapped springform pan in roasting pan or half sheet sized cake pan. Pour your filling into springform pan and jiggle it a bit to smooth the surface; set roasting pan in oven and pour enough hot water into the pan to come about halfway up side of springform pan. This prevents cracking and gives you an even texture throughout the cheesecake.  

Bake until center of cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken, about 1 1/2 hours. Set roasting pan on wire rack and use paring knife to loosen cake from sides of pan. Cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove springform pan from water bath, discard foil, and set on wire rack; continue to cool until barely warm, about 3 hours.

While this beauty is cooling peel, core, and slice your apples.  If you aren't a fan of Granny Smith apples, Pink Lady apples and Jonathan apples are a good fit for these flavors as well.  In a medium sized skillet allow the butter to begin to melt.  While it is melting toss the apples with the cinnamon in a small bowl and then turn them into the skillet.  Fry the apples until the juices have mostly come out and the apples are no longer hard, about 10 minutes.  When they are done set them aside to cool.

For the caramel sauce, in a large saucepan melt butter, sugar, syrup, and cream together on medium-high heat.  This needs to be stirred constantly and brought to 238-240 degrees.  This can take 10 minutes...all of the water content has to boil out of the butter and the cream before it can hit that temperature.  Use a candy thermometer to keep track of the heat.  Once the sauce hits 238-240 degrees, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Once the cheesecake has completely cooled, arrange your apples on the top however you'd like to.  I sort of fanned mine out into two circles and made what I hoped looked like a little flower in the middle.  I suppose if your cheesecake cracks even after all of the precaution taken with the hot water bath...this will help you with your presentation aspect.  But...it shouldn't crack.  This was a perfect recipe.

After you've arranged your apples, cascade your still slightly warm caramel over the top of the apples.  Allowing the caramel to drip down the sides of the cheesecake where it will...don't worry, it just adds character and ooey gooey beautifulness to the final product.  You can either arrange a small amount of pecans on the top like I did or you can smash the pecan halves and sprinkle them on top.  Either way, you need to do it while the caramel is still warmish so the nuts stick to the caramel.

After you have allowed the whole kit 'n' caboodle to set up and chill in the fridge for 4 hours or more, serve it with fresh whipped cream.  I added cinnamon and a dash of salt to the cream before whipping just to give it a little more flair of flavor.  Whipped cream is pretty easy to make.  Chill your bowl and stand mixer whisk in your freezer for 30 minutes or so. Remove it from the freezer and immediately pour in your cream, cinnamon, sugar, and salt.  Start whipping the ingredients at a low to medium speed.  Whip for about 1 minute.  Then increase the speed to high and whip for another 2-3 minutes.  When stiff peaks form stop whipping.  Serve a healthy dollop on top of each slice of Harvest Cheesecake.

The very LARGE fly in my ointment on this plan is that once you envelope that apple topped pumpkin cheese cake in the caramel...OOFDAH!  Cutting through it can, and most likely WILL turn your cheesecake into a mess.  SO!...when you make this...do NOT drizzle the caramel over the top.  Wait until just before serving and drizzle the caramel on each individual slice to the amount of the eater's liking.  Then slap on your dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.  I garnished with just a small dusting of extra cinnamon to help cut through the sweet of the caramel sauce on the top.  

The flavors were all there but I am SO picky about presentation that I have to make this one more time so you can see the difference of what happens when you don't pour the caramel sauce on the top until you serve it.  It pains me to look at the picture of all of those beautiful apples covered up with a layer of caramel and the clunky way I arranged the pecans on top...it looks so amateurish.  There is a better way.  The only great news is that, after trying a slice, my Mister and I passed the rest of it along to a very large family to take care of the rest and they quite enjoyed it.  

I suppose if presentation is my only problem with this dessert, I can still put it in the "win" column.  But, whatever you do..do NOT skip the apples on this dessert.  All of that rich and sweet NEEDS some kind of acid.  Even if you want to put some sauced cranberries on top instead of apples, it will need something to balance it.  Some people do a sour cream layer on top of the pumpkin but, that only breaks up the sweet and ADDS more rich.  So really think through whatever you are contemplating, it would be a shame to waste all those ingredients and all of that time in the kitchen.  But as always...no matter what, have fun in the kitchen! 

13 November, 2013

Hit!...And A Miss...

If I had a loonie for every time I heard the word "soul" in reference to food in this town, I'd be a rich woman.  On this occasion though, it wasn't in reference to the style of the food I was eating, it was more about the concept.  Good, unprocessed, in-house made food...now that is food that TRULY feeds the soul without robbing your body of anything in the process.  That's a lunch for me!  Great thing I stumbled across AlphaSoul Cafe and added it to my "to eat" list last year...

The weather is changing here in Ottawa...when the air becomes chill and the wind starts to snap, I am always on the lookout for comfort food.  TO me this is warms soups, hearty sandwiches, and pretty much everything my Momma might have on the table between September and March.  Lucky for my Mister and me, AlphaSoul Cafe has plenty warm soups, hearty sandwiches, and MORE on their menu for us to choose from.

When you walk in Alpha's vibe is in the air.  You can smell the food being made in the back, breathe in the flower pots wafting into the front door, and the mellow yellow walls inside inviting you to grab a chair and stay a while.

I loved everything about this place.  Even the menus...the above photo with the stack of books, yeah...THOSE are their menus!

Love it!

I love the wall art in this place as well.  It is hard to imagine that anything could make it MORE fun to eat here, but then you find out they have live Jazz music every Friday night, Psychic night the first 3 Thursdays, Joshua Earth Band the last Saturday of every month, and Indie Night every third Saturday of the month...  What a line up!

I didn't waste any time I knew I wanted a lot of food and I knew I wanted it to pack a punch in every bite.  I was leaning towards the very thing our server recommended....Spicy Ham & Gouda.  We were both pretty famished so the Mister ordered a nice appetizer off of their summer seasonal menu; Artichoke Dip.  The Mister ordered a nice crock of French Onion Soup for his main, and just to bring it all together we asked for a ordered a Caramel Pecan Brownie for dessert to share.  Shortly after we had a prayer for our food the appetizer made its way to the table.

Artichoke Dip w/ Fresh Pita Chips
I watched my Mister's face when he took his initial bite...  It worried me.  I asked him what was wrong as I was grabbing a pita chip and dipping it in myself...  He said, "It's cold...", and contorted his face a bit.  By this time I was shoving my chip into my mouth and sure enough...it was cold.  So cold that you know, this is how it was mean to be.  It wasn't like they made it and let it sit so long it GOT cold, it started OUT that way.  I've never had that before.  I have also never had a straight up,unadulterated artichoke dip that didn't have something else in it; spinach, cheese, red pepper....somethin', just something else to help the artichoke out.  I won't say I hated this dip, but I wouldn't order it again.  It just isn't my bag.  But...for a seasonal summer menu item it makes total sense.  Fresh artichokes in a nice, cool dip on a warm day...if you are in love with artichokes, this would be the way to go.  When we ran out of chips our server asked us if we wanted more chips to finish the dip, but we declined.  But, I think it is a testament to the abundance they offer there.  Run out of chips...we'll give you more for free.  Who wouldn't love that?  So, even though I personally wouldn't order this again, it doesn't have anything to do with food quality, it was just the vision.  But, I didn't have too much time to dwell on it...my sandwich and his soup were ready.

Spicy Ham & Gouda

I should tell you straight off...their ham is made in-house, their bread is made in-house, and it really shows off some great skill.  But, that is what confused me about the culmination of the sandwich itself.  It is the in-house made bread, in-house ham, smoked gouda, tomato, hot banana peppers, horseradish, honey mustard, and arugula.  Anyone notice anything about that sentence...?  Bread, ham, cheese, wet, wet, wet, wet...arugula.  Right.  As you can imagine, this sandwich was quite the drippy mess to eat.  I let my server know, and she apologized but...I don't understand how someone who could dream that perfect combo up couldn't look ahead to the plate and see how it would make the sandwich quite the mess to tackle.  I get super annoyed when my plate wears more flavor than the food does...  Had I been in the kitchen dreaming up this combo I would have pulverized the hot banana peppers and allowed them to drain off the excess juice a bit, then add those peppers and the horseradish to the honey mustard (I would have made sure my honey mustard was grain mustard as well...), making one sauce out of all of it.  It would have accomplished the same flavor profile and it would have saved the beautiful bread that they went to the trouble to make.  The sandwich flavor was absolute dynamite!  I LOVE spice and heat in my food and this sandwich hit every note...sweet, sour, heat, and salt.  I just wish my bread hadn't turned into a puddle.  I let my Mister finish the sandwich while I went after his soup for a while.

Four Cheese French Onion Soup

This was a pretty awesome crock of soup.  I didn't get any of the bread or any of the cheese by the time I got to try his soup.  I typically don't comment on food that I didn't order for myself but this soup deserves to have its praises sung.  All of the cheeses gave distinct salt and creaminess to the soup and paired against the chardonnay and fresh herbs...I was really wishing I had ordered this myself.  Live and learn...live and learn...  I knew there was dessert coming so I yielded the spoon back to my man and let the anticipation well up for the next course.

Caramel Pecan Brownie

I wish that I could tell you that I loved this brownie, but I didn't.  It wasn't really a "brownie".  It was halfway there though...  The texture was half way between a cake and a brownie, and there is no other way to explain it.  It wasn't fudgy and the "brownie" to nut ratio was crazy...  There were WAY too many pecans goin' on in this sucker.  If you know me....you'll be surprised to hear me say that.  I ALWAYS add nuts to things and usually, pecans.  Pecans are my favorite nut.  But I honestly couldn't handle it and I let the Mister finish it.  The caramel was house made and the only thing on this plate that I ate with any sort of zeal.  There wasn't much of the sauce in comparison to the brownie...and the level of chocolate richness just wasn't there with what I am used to.  This dessert fell flat for me and ALMOST made me wish I had ordered a cookie instead, and cookies are my least favorite dessert on the planet.  Ouchies Alpha...you cut me to the quick.  

Would I eat here again?  Absolutely!  I know I don't hit a home run with EVERY single thing I whip up in my kitchen.  Their concept of fresh and in-house made is something I believe is vital to a good business model in restaurant cooking.  I just wished their execution of these ideas had turned out better.  I know I have a brownie recipe they could borrow if they want to take their desserts up a notch but...the soup was perfect and the concept of the spicy ham & gouda was very intelligent.  Price points on the soup and sandwich were perfect but, 5 loonies for a "brownie" that just didn't quite make it to "brownie" texture was a big stretch for me.  Even with my all organic ingredients (Wholesome Sweeteners sugars, Green & Black's chocolate, Neilsson Massey extracts, King Arthur Flours, organic free range brown eggs, etc.), 5 loonies would be a stretch.  That would have to be a damn good brownie.  Alpha's wasn't.

While we were sitting there initially we saw quite a few folks come in and leave with little brown bags.  AlphaSoul has a great, faithful customer base that can't be denied.  They know what they are doing when it comes to sandwiches and soups, so give them a whirl the next time you are down in Wellington West for lunch.  Or better yet...hit them up on a Friday night and chill to some Jazz while you nosh on your sandwich!  Either way, you'll have a lovely, relaxing experience.  The Sweet Pea even had a good time!

AlphaSoul Cafe on Urbanspoon

06 November, 2013

Best of Both Worlds

I get recipes from people all over the world, no exaggeration (you'd think my following on the website would be larger!!  Har, har!).  Sometimes they are real duds, and sometimes the concept is fabulous but I can tell by looking at a recipe that it isn't going to execute the way the person told me it would without me "tweaking" it quite a bit.  Hit the "rewind" button to two weeks ago....

I started seeing this recipe circulating on Facebook.  Apple Crisp Cheesecake.  When you go ahead and look at the recipe, it seems like a great recipe until you read that it is for a 6 inch spring form and a host of other problems with the recipe.  So...what did I do??  I did what I usually do.  I took the concept and made the end result better.  

Y'all know, two of my favorite things are Apple Crisp and Cheesecake.  Dessert wise, I don't think you can get much better than that.  Even with my lactose intolerance problems, I will suffer...horribly...just for that cheesecake taste to be on my tongue for the few minutes that it is.  Then there is apple crisp...  Growing up in Minnesota it is a staple autumn dessert.  Tons of apple trees (anyone ever heard of the Bayfield Apple Fest??) in the Great Lakes Region and it gets cold mighty early in that neck of the woods.  So...what *would* happen if I took my two favorite desserts and combined them...then drizzled it with caramel.  I'll tell you what will happen...  People will all of the sudden think you are a magician because that plate of cheesecake is going to disappear faster than Houdini ever could!!

Let's get started...  Three things.  One, this cheesecake does not need to be baked in a hot water bath.  But you should bake it inside something big enough to catch anything that might boil over.  I did bake this one in water but I found it didn't need it in the end.  Two, actually letting the "crisp" part of the apple crisp topping on this sucker get "crisp" isn't very conducive to slicing the cheesecake later.  Found that little nugget out the hard way.  Third, cheesecake batter turns out best when the cream cheese and eggs are room temperature before beginning the batter.  So...at least 30 minutes before beginning the batter make sure the eggs and cream cheese are out of the fridge and in a place where they can easily come to room temperature.

Apple Crisp Cheesecake

12 whole sheets of organic graham crackers, crushed
1 c. oats
10 T. unsalted butter, melted
3 T. organic brown cane sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F

Break the graham crackers into manageable chunks and toss them in a food processor with the oats and brown sugar.  Let it run on high until the crackers and oats are crumbs and the brown sugar is well incorporated.  While the machine is doing that, melt the butter in a small saucepan or the microwave.  While the processor is on, drizzle in the butter slowly.  When the butter is evenly distributed in the crumbed mixture turn off the machine and turn it out into your spring form pan.  Press the crumbs into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan and up the sides.  If you prefer a thick bottom crust, don't press any up the sides; if you like a thinner crust use an 8 inch cake pan to really press the crumbs into the bottom and squish them up the side.  Put the crust in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.  Allow it to completely cool before adding the cheesecake batter to it.

***Baking the crust for a little while ahead of time helps ensure a crisp crust and allows for less of a chance of the cheesecake causing it to "weep" (become soggy) after baking and completely cooling in the refrigerator.***

Apple Layer
4 apples; peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 c. organic brown cane sugar

2 T. cinnamon
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. ginger

Toss together in a bowl to let the flavors marry and set the apples aside while you make the cheesecake batter.

Crisp Topping
3/4 c. oats
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. organic brown cane sugar
1 T. cinnamon
6 T. unsalted butter, softened (not melted)

Mix all ingredients into a medium sized bowl with your hand or a fork.  Set aside until you're ready to put on top of the apple layer.

Cheesecake Batter
3-8 oz. bricks of full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. organic cane sugar
2 T. flour
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. lemon zest or juice, optional
10 inch long, wide band of parchment paper
1 T. butter

Toss your room temperature cream cheese into your stand mixer or into a large bowl, turn your mixer on low and let it go until the cream cheese seems smoothly whipped.  Scrape down the sides of your bowl.  Then add in your sugar, vanilla, and flour.  Once those are well incorporated stop mixing and scrape down your bowl.  (You'll thank me for that later) Add in your eggs making sure they get fully mixed into the batter.  Scrape down your bowl again.  If there was any of the mixture that wasn't well mixed at this point, turn your mixer on again and whip it into the batter.  (I usually let my stand mixer go for a good 3 minutes just whipping to make sure it is silky smooth.)  Add in the milk and lemon zest or juice and give it one last good mix.

In the completely COOLED spring form pan grease the edges of the pan that are still exposed (the part that isn't covered with crust) with the butter.  Place the strip of parchment paper against the wall of the pan.  Again...you'll thank me for THIS later.  I actually forgot to do this and it messed with me being able to get the cheesecake out without losing bits of the filling and topping.  I was mildly perturbed. 

Pour the batter into the pan after the parchment is arranged and safely sticking to the buttered sides of the pan.  Once the batter is in the pan and you've given it a little giggle to settle it, top your batter with the apples.

As you can see from the picture...I sliced my apples when I first tried this recipe out.  This is TOTALLY pointless.  It would really be for presentation purposes only and...the whole thing gets covered by a topping.  SO, your best bet is going to be to dice the apples for maximum apple coverage which is going to give you the best bang for your buck as far as effort on this sucker.

 This is what it looked like before baking...

After you get the crumble topping on it is time to bake.  Bake this baby in the oven at 325 for 15 minutes, and then at 300 for 1 hour and 15 minutes OR until the internal temperature of the cheesecake hits 150 degrees F.  This may take longer if your oven has problems with hot spots, etc.  I wouldn't recommend the "shake" method of checking if it is done.  The topping and apples will hide the thermometer hole, so just test the temp and don't worry about it.  

This is what it looked like when it was finished...

Note...lol...the messed up gnarly looking edges.  This is what happens when one forgets their parchment border.  Good for me that it didn't affect the taste of the cheesecake, eh?

While this beauty is cooling the requisite 4 hours +, make your caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 c. organic brown cane sugar
3 T. cornstarch
3/4 c. water
1 c. cream
1/4 c. + 2 T. brown rice syrup or corn syrup
3 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a bowl stir together the sugar and cornstarch then in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan stir the sugar, cornstarch, and water together on medium heat.  Add in the cream, butter, and syrup.  Stirring it constantly, allow the sauce to boil until it appears curdled.  (Be careful not to scorch it.  You'll have to start over if you do!) Then boil it for about 2 more minutes or until when a cold spoon is put into mixture it thickly coats the spoon and stays on when dipped into the caramel.  Remove from the heat and add in the vanilla bean paste/extract.  Stir in and set it aside until you're ready to drizzle on the cheesecake slices when served.

There isn't much to say about this picture except...c'mon...you know you want to make this, so go ahead and make your shopping list now.  No, go....I'll wait...

The most important thing I can tell you about this is that when my Mister and I shared a slice last night he said it was "good".  He doesn't usually go that far with desserts that I make.  Not without me asking anyhow.  He volunteered that assessment.  So...from that you can glean this is some dang good cheesecake.  If you aren't sure, here is another important picture....

That was my cheesecake plate after I brought the rest of the cheesecake to church this morning.  I informed the ladies in my church family that I had made an apple crisp cheesecake with caramel sauce and we needed to find bellies for the rest.  It didn't look like many of the ladies I reached out to on Facebook were going to be able to make it to the kitchen for a slice.  But, lol...ha!  They came....they devoured....my Mister was slightly crushed lol...  I didn't find out until after church and on our way home he harbored a small hope that there would be a slice left.  Guess who will most likely be making another Apple Crisp Cheesecake in the near future??  I bet he requests this for Thanksgiving every year from now on.  Stay tuned...   We'll see what happens.