Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chocolate Pinon Cheesecake

This recipe was inspired by the people in my last post. I took a basic cheesecake recipe of my mother’s, and added chocolate, cinnamon, chile powder, and pinon nuts. All but cinnamon are native to the New World.
The pinon nuts in this picture were bought from a man selling them out of his van at the side of the road. He showed us a pinecone and explained, “El pinon esta aqui en el dentro.” We understood from him that pinon nuts are harvested once every five years, which explains why the generous cup’s worth we bought cost $20. However they are very rich and their piney taste stays with you.
Actually, this recipe is just a first draft. It came out very rich and chocolately, and tasting a little bit complex, but we could not actually taste the chile powder. In future recipes, I (or you) might try cutting the amount of chocolate in half (or cutting the sugar further), increasing the chile powder or substituting cayenne pepper instead, or adding a little cinnamon to the crust.

¾ cup all-purpose flour + ¼ cup whole wheat flour
2 T sugar
½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine
2 – 3 T milk
1 - 2 T butter
1 12-oz pckg semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1 lb (2 8-oz packages) cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
1 cup sugar
1 t chile powder
½ t cinnamon
5 eggs
¼ cup pinon nuts

Thaw the cream or Neufchatel cheese an hour or two before beginning the process.
Preheat oven 350 F.
Put 1 – 2 T butter and the semisweet chocolate chips in a saucepan on the lowest heat possible. While you are doing the rest of the recipe, stir occasionally and add splashes of milk as needed to melt the chocolate chips without allowing them to burn.
For crust, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter. Then add a little milk at a time, tossing with a fork each time, until the mixture is just moist. I added 1 or 2 tablespoons too much milk, so my crust dough was sticky and hard to handle. Form the dough into a mass, place it in the bottom of a springform cheesecake baking pan, and pat it out until it makes a crust that covers the bottom and an inch or two up the sides, more or less evenly. My crust was far from perfect, but the cake still came out OK. Cover the pan and chill the crust until you are ready to add the filling.
For the filling, beat together the cream cheese (I find it helpful to cube it first), the sugar, the chile powder and the cinnamon until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the melted chocolate, a little at a time, beating until it is thoroughly mixed. Fold in the pinon nuts. Pour the filling mixture into the crust and smooth to make it even. I poured it into the crust first, then sprinkled on the pinon nuts and lightly folded them in. But this was difficult to do without disturbing the bottom of the crust.
Bake at 350 F for 55 minutes or until the center is just firm to the touch. Cool to room temperature, then chill the cake before serving. If desired, garnish with additional pinon nuts or even with chile peppers!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Native American Gourmet

Even though economics makes it unlikely that I will ever eat food catered by Red Mesa Cuisine, I love, love, love what they are doing. According to their web site, the two chefs, Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater, both of Native American descent, strive "to bring Native American Cuisine into the contemporary Southwest kitchens and to help sustain traditional foods, traditional agricultural food practices, as well as keep alive culinary techniques from a variety of Native communities." In other words, "Chefs Frank & Whitewater cook contemporary American Indian foods using ancient techniques and ingredients all with a modern twist." Whenever possible, they buy their ingredients from tribes in their area.
I found out about this when our local paper ran an article about Lois Ellen Frank, one that included some recipes. I think my birthday wish list is going to include her book, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tractor Cake for A Three-Year-Old

You can find much better-looking tractor cakes if you Google it, but this is my version. We used two loaf pans, two small Pyrex bowls, and two cupcake cups to get the desired shapes. A lot of toothpicks holding it together. My little bro built the foil-covered cardboard platform on which we raised the cake. A great use of his architectural training to serve others. The grill and the headlights are licorice candy. The steering wheel is a peppermint patty.
The three-year-old immediately recognized it as a tractor cake and was very pleased.