Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daring Bakers April Challenge: Cheesecake (not pictured)

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
I have never met a cheesecake that I didn't like so my natural reaction to the choice of cheesecake for April's challenge was one of glee and delight. April was a super busy month for me but by planning ahead I scheduled to make my DB cheesecake for my Irish family's Easter dinner in Naples, FL. But woe is me for my Easter day was the definition of hectic. First thing in the morning I was the first to wake-up in my house and I went straight to the kitchen to start my Diabetic Key Lime Cheesecake with a Tropical Fruit Puree Topping. Thankfully Dad and I went shopping the night before so I could immediately get started on the crust as seen in the recipe below (my changes are in purple):

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs - I used Murray's Sugar Free Gingersnaps instead.
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar - Substituted with granulated Splenda.
1 tsp. vanilla extract - Omitted entirely.
3/4 cup ground Macadamia Nuts

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature - Used low-fat cream cheese.
1 cup / 210 g sugar - Substituted with granulated Splenda.
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice - Used key lime juice.
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean) - Omitted entirely.
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake - Omitted entirely.

**Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.** - This is a variation from which I used. The only major difference is since I used real key limes from the Florida Keys, I needed about 12 of them for the zest and the juice because those buggers are tiny!

Fruit Puree Topping:

1/2 cup guava nectar
1 medium papaya, cubed & de-seeded
1 kiwi. quartered
2 tblsp of granulated Splenda
Put in a blender and pulse until the consistency is thick and nicely pink. Spread on top of cooled cheesecake.

Now that you know what I made and how I made it, I bet you want to see pictures of it right? As soon as I tossed my cheesecake in the fridge to firm up before the party it was shower time and off to find flowers before heading to the cemetery where my Grandfather, brother, and uncle are buried. It was important to me to make it there before the party so we all could chit-chat for a while and catch up, so in my mad dash I did not take pictures of the darn cheesecake before taking it to the party. So far as a Daring Baker, this has been my biggest misstep for as I arrived at my Uncle Jimmy's house, it was straight to the kitchen to help finish our gigantour Easter meal. The cheesecake went back into the fridge and stayed there until dessert. As my large family arrived I was caught up in my cousin's new baby Norah Jean, handing out chocolate bunnies to my younger cousins, and just catching up with everyone else. Taking cheesecake photos completely slipped my mind in the euphoria of family. Dessert came out around 4pm and everyone dove into any one of the 3 cakes we had. Suddenly it was 6pm and I had to start the 4 hour drive back up to Orlando to be at work on Monday. Saying my goodbyes, I turned to see if any remnants of the cheesecake were left to photograph and the aluminum dish was empty save some crumbs. Sigh...

I suppose this challenge was a success as my cheesecake was devoured by both my diabetic and non-diabetic family members. Thanks for providing a recipe I was able to share with my family. Next month I promise photos galore. Thanks for reading. :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sushi and Thai Too in Naples, FL

(Above: My Dad singing to me at Hot Olives in Winter Park, FL May 2008 after I received my Master's Degree from UCF.)

To celebrate this Easter holiday I ventured to southwest Florida where my Philadelphia, Irish family has migrated and settled into over the past fifteen years following my grandparents retirement. Naples is a playground town for the wealthy, semi-wealthy, and the retired. Tons of coastline boasts sublime niches of beaches, and where there is recreation and relaxation there are also a bevy of restaurants. Naples has a lot of different cuisines to choose from and my dad and I are no stranger to these culinary establishments. For last Saturday's lunch I told my dad to pick a place we have yet to try; something new. Upon his decent on downtown Naples which butts up to the large public beach, he saw Sushi and Thai Too on the corner of 5th Ave and US 41.

Coming directly from Bikram Yoga, I had not yet eaten so I was ready to 'throw-down' on delicious, fresh sushi. After ninety minutes in a 100 degree room with a fierce, Latina instructor I earned the right to lunch out. Our first course at Sushi and Thai too was a Thai Squid Salad with mild spiciness. The salad was fair but it had more sea cucumber than actual squid, and I am pretty sure I ordered a squid salad. After that faux pas of a course, my dad and I ordered three rolls for the main event, a Sakesu Roll of tuna and crab wrapped in cucumber, a Black Dragon Roll composed of shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado, scallions and topped with eel and eel sauce, and a Lobster Roll which is 6oz of dual presented lobster tail; half tempura battered and half sliced plus a roll of yumminess to finish the dish, or for Ss&Gs.

Lobster Roll (iPhones can take some great pics!)

Black Dragon Roll (measures in length with Dad's Buddha Belly)
Sakesu Roll
Both the Lobster Roll and the Black Dragon Roll were beyond lavish decadence. The velvety textures of avocado and lobster accompanied by the crunch on the shrimp and lobster tempura was a knock-out for the oral sensors. Plus, their sauces were portioned oh so right with great flavor in spicy mayo and eel sauces especially. The Sakesu was light, and although I joke about the silliness of pro cooks and foodies using the word 'bright' (what, is the food blinding to look at?) to describe food, I think this roll qualifies as a bright food as the freshness and moisture oozes after the initial bite. Since the other rolls had such robust flavor and texture, the Sakesu served as a lovely refresher to the palette. The only criticism for the Sakesu was the use of imitation crab instead of the real thing. Note to Sushi and Thai Too: you are on a coastline and you charge a good amount of dinero for your food, i.e., spring for the real crab por favor!

Completely full and totally satisfied, Daddy picked up the bill as I skipped off to the beach nearby for some sunny digestion. When you're Daddy's little girl, you can always go home again. :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food Network Audition DENIED. Vivia La Food Adventurers.

I did it. I took the deep dive down to the underworld and tried out for a reality show. I suppose the depravity of this show isn't quite so low as say Paradise Island because our audition was for a new show called 'Eat the Clock' for the Food Network. The premise is simple: contestants race around the city to complete food-based challenges until someone wins, pukes, cries, or dies. The show name has now changed to 'City vs. Chefs' which also explains how the incredible food adventurers audition my brother and I did was not chosen as one of the 'outstanding' videos (contestants all have to be chefs now which wasn't the original qualification). All griping aside because I went to college instead of culinary school and without further ado, it is my joy to bring 'Food Adventurers' from all of me to all of you:

One last note as this entertainment marinates in your brain, each one of those stories are 100% true and 100% stupid.

Rachel 'Tha Pizza Cutta', Food Adventurer, OUT!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dinner Date at Roy's

Ladies, don't you just love kicking up your hairdo a notch, throwing on a killer outfit, and grabbing a dinner date with your best gal? I sure do. Dinner dates with girlfriends is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a meal. Lately, my gal Lyda and I try a new restaurant about once a month. We always have more fun than we or the wait staff can handle and last week Lyda suggested Roy's Hawaiin Fusion Cuisine. Like many successful noveau restaurants, Roy's is a limited chain with locations up and down the east coast and all the way to California.

We arrived to our 7:45 reservation early but that mattered not as we were greeted and immediately seated. Roy's service staff performed impeccably from beginning to end starting with the complimentary napkin-on-lap placing before sitting down-an old and almost forgotten tradition. At our server's suggestion, Lyda and I both ordered the 1988 cocktail which commemorates Roy's first year open in Honolulu, HI. From the menu the cocktail is a, "perfectly balanced blend of tart grapefruit and tangy pomegranate with ABSOLUT Ruby Red Vodka, SoHo Lychee Liqueur and PatrĂ³n Citronge Liqueur echoes the idyllic island lifestyle." Oddly enough the menu doesn't state the star of the show; the edible hibiscus in the bottom of our martini glasses. This was my first full bloom of edible flower and I was so ecstatic to try a new food with my favorite gal pal. When I bit into the flower once the 1988 was dry it was like a piece of chewy candy in my mouth! The surprise was unexpected and delightfully enjoyed.

Accompanying our cocktail are the complimentary Spicy Seasoned Edamame. Anything free is always a good thing, but when it actually tastes good too? That's a ringer right there, so way to go Roy's!

Lyda is getting married in October and as a bridesmaid, it is our shared duty to stay in a certain shape until after the event takes place and the pictures safely processed and printed. Since we are under such current taunt diet restrictions, to start the meal Lyda and I split a Farm Fresh Baby Field Green Salad made with Asian Pear, Chevre, Peppercorn & Sherry Vinaigrette. As you can see in one of the picture's Lyda snapped of me with her iPhone, I seriously contemplate the flavors of the salad as is part and parcel to my eating experience.

After the salad course our main courses landed right on time. Lyda choose the Macadamia Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi while I sprung for the Garlic Spinach Gorgonzola Swordfish. My dish dazzled with a blue crab, rich sauce which I used to dress each bite of potato, fish, and vegetable. Both of us were heartily happy with our main meals and were just about to forgoe dessert in favor of the fabulous wedding pictures when we saw and could not resist the Milk Chocolate Almond Creme Brulee. Splitting the confection, of course, Lyda and I ended the meal in a silky, smooth, velvety chocolate heaven. Together, Lyda and I had a magical evening of big laughs, tons of iPhone bathroom pictures, and incredible Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. I can only hope next month's adventure will be as stupendous as this.