I planned the whole menu for my sister’s baby shower… and appetizers is my thing. So I had a few ideas already in my mind. I would work with puff pastry to make something savory and something sweet. I would make a version of Rosemary Almonds but using cashews, which are easier on more adult teeth. Gotta think of the grandmas…
I brought with me an exquisite Pigeon Peas Antipasto too, but I was missing something else. Like a dip. But I was running out of ideas. I can’t make Veggie Dip one more time!!!
Then… I remembered a recipe I had seen from Giada DiLaurentiis – a savory cheesecake recipe designed to use a small cheesecake pan, just like the only one I have!! I had to adapt the recipe to make it egg-free and integrated some ideas I have learned while making Pumpkin Cheesecake over Thanksgiving.
Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did… this recipe is a keeper. Great for making in advance… great to bring to a party too!!!
SAVORY BASIL CHEESECAKE
Butter, for greasing the pan
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tbs sour cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tsp egg replacer + 4 tbs water
Pinch of salt and freshly cracker pepper
1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
- Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl mix together the egg replacer and the water. Whisk well to combine and set aside. The mixture will foam and grow a bit.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 4 1/2-inch diameter spring-form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with a piece of heavy-duty foil. If you don’t have heavy-duty foil, just double on the foil.
- Place the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese and sour cream in a food processor. Pulse until mixed.
- Add the brown sugar, the egg replacer mixture, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Add the basil and pulse until incorporated.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared spring-form pan. Place the pan in a glass baking dish that’s slightly larger. Pour enough hot water in the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the spring-form pan. Make sure the foil top edge is above the water line.
- Bake until the cheesecake is golden at the edges and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the cheesecake will become firm when chilled), about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove the spring-form pan from the baking dish and remove the foil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3-4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the spring-form pan. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes.
- Drizzle the top of the cheesecake with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with assorted crackers.
This is a great recipe to make the day before you need it. Just chill in the fridge and get out before your guests arrive. The cheesecake will hold very well at room temperature.
I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week. As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.
Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…
The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.
I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.
CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS
About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
15oz ricotta cheese
8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling
Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce
28oz of diced tomatoes
About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
4 oz of crème fraiche
4 oz of sour cream
½ cup of milk
6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
- For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
- For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
- For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
- After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.
You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.
This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!
Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…
When I am at home cooking for myself, I am lazy. So I just dress my salads with either an organic brand of prepared salad dressing or just drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice over the greens and call it a day.
But when I am with the Yoga Center people, I need to prepare salad dressings most days I cook for them. Most of the times, we create what we lovingly call Left-Over Dressings. But once in a while I will create such a delicious combination that I will write the ingredients and make it over and over again… such is the case with this Tomato and Basil Dressing.
I created this dressing for the first time during my recent trip to Asunción, Paraguay. Several of us were in charge to cook for the whole group, right before our spiritual retreat. We needed to prepare a salad dressing that will stand up to the delicious greens, sprouts and other veggies we were eating… hey, we were fasting and people get reaaaaaaallly hungry.
The results were so delicious I wrote down the recipe and have been making it a few times since. Each and every time we get great compliments on the flavor and simplicity. Hope you like it as much as my yoga crowd…
TOMATO BASIL DRESSING
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small cucumber , roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 small green bell pepper, cut into medium-sized pieces
½ carrot, peeled and cut into medium chunks
2 garlic cloves, smashed
½ bunch of fresh basil, washed and cut somewhat including the stems
1 tbs salt
1 heaping tbs Garlic & Herbs Seasoning blend
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
The juice of 2-3 large green limes
1 cup olive oil
A small drizzle of honey or agave nectar
- In a blender, add all the solid ingredients. I like to add the tomatoes first because they’re the most liquid and will create the right environment or the rest of the ingredients to puree well. I also add the salt, pepper, lime or lemon juice and other seasonings.
- Puree well using the blender… let the blender go for a while to ensure the mixture is well pureed.
- While the blender is going, add the olive oil thru the hole on the blenders cover. Drizzle the oil in a small steady stream. This will allow the dressing to emulsify and fir the oil to stay integrated in the dressing and not separate when it’s standing. Add also the drizzle of honey after the oil is integrated.
This recipe will yield you two large jars of dressing (I recycle glass jars for this purpose)… good enough for a hungry crowd like ours. You can certainly scale it down if you prefer or just keep it in the fridge for a whole week of deliciously dressed salads.
I don’t know what it is about tomatoes in Florida… but every time I visit my sister, we can’t contain the urge to buy lots and lots of tomatoes. They’re just so plump and red and sweet and delicious… And I learned never to put them in the fridge. Just leave them on the counter and eat from there. They’ll not spoil and you’ll always have the best tomato experience.
We would go to The Boys Farmers Market or to another smaller more traditional type of farmers market near my sister’s home and would always return home with a batch of delicious tomatoes. I would make batches and batches of my Tomato Basil Brushetta mix and this Caprese Salad for my sister… her favorite.
I always like to add a bed of crispy lettuce underneath to bump the nutritional value and heft of the salad. Even though its tradition to have only tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, I need lettuce to make it feel more of a real salad to me. All the components are readily available fresh from The Boys – mozzarella, basil leaves and mixed greens…
6-8 romaine lettuce leaves, thinly shredded or baby spinach leaves would work well also
2 large tomatoes, sliced
½ ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
10-12 basil leaves, washed and trimmed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
- Just place cut lettuce or other greens as a bed on a serving platter. Arrange tomato and mozzarella slices alternately on top of lettuce bed.
- Place a basil leaf in between each slice of tomato and cheese.
- Drizzle with Olive Oil and Balsamic. Sprinkle liberally with Salt and Pepper.
Don’t the tomatoes look scrumptious???
This year’s Mother’s Day crept up on me very unexpectedly… I had been traveling in India for about a month and when I was making myself at home… POOF! Mother’s Day is here!!!!!
For the last few years, I have been making a big part of our family lunch reunions – partly because I am the food blogger extraordinaire, creator of all recipes delicious, but most of all, because I am the one vegetarian with the least responsibility. My mom is super busy taking care of my grandma and that consumes most of her day. And if the vegetarians want to make sure they have something to eat besides salad, I need to take charge. Besides, it’s Mother’s Day, how am I going to make my Mom or Aunt cook???
I had to deal with what I had in the pantry and freezer – some lasagna noodles, frozen corn, frozen spinach, a few shredded cheeses, milk (thank God for UHT) and spices. I was drawing a blank because I didn’t want to make just spinach lasagna again… I had made one recently at Thanksgiving. And here comes my friend, Giada Di Laurentiis, with a recipe for mini lasagnas made of sweet corn and mascarpone. I took some inspiration from her recipe, a quick trip to the 24-hour supermarket, combined with my audacity to use up what I had available and make sure I had enough lasagna to feed 10 people, I came up with this recipe. It looks like it has a lot of ingredients, but it’s actually super easy to make. Check it out…
CORN AND SPINACH LASAGNA
½ package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 package of frozen corn, thawed
9 whole-wheat lasagna sheets
A whole recipe of White Sauce (recipe follows)
½ cup heavy cream
3 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, divided (we’ll use half for the corn mixture and half for the white sauce)
1 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, divided (we’ll use part with the corn mixture and the rest for the lasagna assembly)
2 cups of grated Italian blend cheeses, divided (part for the white sauce and part for the lasagna assembly)
The zest and juice of 1 yellow lemon
About 25 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried
¼ teaspoon of kosher salt
A few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil spray for the casserole dish
For the White Sauce:
2 cups of milk
2 tbs of sofrito
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
The cheeses mentioned in the list above (the cream cheese and the Italian shredded cheese blend)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Note: My apologies if I confused you with the ingredients list above… I just want to let you know that for making this whole recipe you’ll need a bar of cream cheese, a tub of grated pecorino romano and a 2-cup bag of shredded cheese. I just didn’t want YOU to do the math of how much ingredients you need in total when I already know it. It’s easier to give you the whole amount for when you’re making your grocery list, even though you’ll use it in various applications within the same recipe. Cool?? I hope so…
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook until tender, stirring occasionally to avoid any sticking, about 8-10 minutes. Drain.
- Meanwhile we make the white sauce… In a medium saucepan over medium heat add a bit of olive oil and the sofrito. Cook a few minutes to remove the raw taste. Add the milk and 4 ounces of cream cheese (half of a cream cheese bar) and stir every so often to melt the cheese and start to thicken the sauce. When the cream cheese is incorporated into the milk, add about 1 cup of the Italian shredded cheeses, the parmesan cheese and remove from heat. Whisk all together to melt and blend the cheeses and thicken the sauce. Set aside.
- In a food processor, blend the corn, spinach, cream and garlic. Add the rest of the cream cheese (you should have ½ a bar left), 2/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano cheese, the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Add the basil leaves last and pulse until just combined. Set aside.
- In a 9” x 13” glass baking dish sprayed with olive oil spray, place some ladles of the white sauce to prevent anything from sticking. Place 3 lasagna noodles at the bottom. Add ½ of the corn/spinach mixture, add a few ladles of white sauce to cover it all, sprinkle some of the shredded cheeses and some of the pecorino romano. And we start over again, another layer of noodles, the rest of the corn/spinach mixture, more sauce, shredded cheeses and pecorino romano. Lastly, top with the last layer of noodles, pour enough white sauce to cover the noodles and allow it to seep into the rest of the lasagna. Finish off with the remaining shredded cheeses and pecorino romano you may have left.
- Place the glass dish on a baking sheet to prevent any spilling in the oven and bake for about 3o minutes, until the filling/sauce is bubbling and the top gets golden brown. If the top takes too long to brown, just turn on the broiler for a few minutes to get the desired color on top.
- Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.
My aunt and uncle were raving all afternoon about this lasagna. The funny thing is that you might believe the filling is sweet due to the corn, but its savory and delicious… with traces of corn flavor, but the piquancy of the lemon zest and basil. It’s different and very, very delicious.