Cheesecake: Do I Need an Excuse?
Shavuot is the time when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, but like so many other Jewish holidays, there’s a food component too. This is the “dairy” holiday.
Visions of cheesecake come to mind.
I’ve heard numerous explanations of why dairy and Shavuot go hand in hand. One is that the holiday commemorates the origins of kashruth, including the separation of eating meat and dairy. Another is to remember the promise of Israel, the “land of milk and honey.”
And there are others. But I don’t need to search too long or hard, I’m just happy for an excuse to eat cheesecake.
For my family, traditional Shavuot foods are a big bonus. Like most folks, we love cheesecake, but beyond that we like dairy dishes of all kinds, and have them frequently, even for Shabbat. Shavuot is a food fest for us. One child doesn’t love chicken, one doesn’t eat beef, and so on, like in many families. Dairy meals are easier and more welcome because everyone enjoys cheese and yogurt, sour cream, eggs and the rest of the list of dairy ingredients.
Besides, having a dairy meal means better desserts. We can have ice cream right after dinner. Or maybe whipped cream topped fruit or pie or fruit cobbler a la mode or pudding or, of course, cheesecake.
For this year’s holiday I might prepare a fish dinner, starting out with a chilled soup suitable to warm weather – Cream of Fennel is a family favorite and I can make it a couple of days ahead. The soup will be followed by salmon on the grill, fresh tomato salad (with a mustardy vinaigrette dressing) and Eggplant with Yogurt and Pine Nuts, a recipe that is in my book, Hip Kosher.
Or we may decide to begin with Greens and Goat Cheese Salad. This is a large mélange of mixed lettuces and other salad ingredients plus crispy crumb-coated goat cheese rounds. All the greens are washed and readied well ahead of dinner; the goat cheese crisps are fried and set aside. If we have the salad, I’ll serve cheese or mushroom frittatas with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes for dinner.
On the other hand, my sons-in-law love my recipe for Huevos Rancheros, a Mexican egg-and-salsa dish with corn tortillas and melted cheese (another recipe from Hip Kosher), so maybe I’ll decide on that instead. I can set this casserole up ahead and pop it under the broiler at the last minute. In that case we’ll begin the meal with nachos (complete with cooked beans, grated cheddar cheese, hot fresh chili peppers and a large mound of sour cream).
I can’t decide which meal to make right now. But I do know what’s for dessert.
Cheesecake of course.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is
Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).
Cream of Fennel Soup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
2 bulbs fresh fennel, cleaned and thinly sliced (include stalks)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
anise extract to taste
light cream, optional
Heat the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Add the fennel and lemon and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the potatoes, stock, water and some salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan partially and cook for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender. Return the soup to the pan and heat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon anise extract, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper or more anise to taste. For a creamier soup, add 1/2 to 1 cup light cream and heat through. Makes 6 servings
Greens and Goat Cheese Salad
6 tablespoons broken walnut pieces or chopped hazelnuts
1 bunch arugula
1 head radicchio
1 head oakleaf lettuce
log of goat cheese, about 5-6 ounces
12 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped red onion
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a cookie sheet and roast for 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside. Wash and dry the arugula, radicchio and lettuce. Discard any tough arugula stems. Tear the radicchio and lettuce into bite-size pieces. Toss the salad ingredients in a bowl and set them aside. Cut the cheese into eight slices. Brush the slices with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Combine the breadcrumbs, thyme and rosemary and coat the cheese with this mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the coated cheese slices and cook for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn the slices over and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove to paper towels. Combine the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until well combined. Pour enough of the dressing over greens to moisten the salad. Toss lightly and place the greens on four serving dishes. Scatter the red onion on top. Place two pieces of fried cheese on each salad. Garnish with walnuts. Drizzle with remaining dressing if desired. Makes 4 servings
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons melted butter
10 ounces semisweet chocolate
1-1/2 pounds cream cheese (3 -8 ounce packages)
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup dairy sour cream or unflavored yogurt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, stirring to coat all the crumbs. Press the buttered crumbs onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Chill for 15 minutes while you prepare the batter. Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over barely simmering water (or use a microwave oven). Set aside to cool. Beat the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer set on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract, cream and sour cream. Add chocolate. Beat the ingredients until they are smooth and well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the springform pan inside a larger pan. Fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come at least 1" up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 70-75 minutes or until the cake is set and doesn’t shake when the pan is moved gently. Remove the springform pan from the larger pan and let the cake cool. When the cake has reached room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until it is thoroughly chilled. Remove the sides of the springform pan and cut the cake into slices using a knife that has been heated under hot water and dried. Makes one cake, about 8 servings