Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Macaroon Mania


It started the day after Passover. The phone began to ring with friends and relatives calling me from the supermarket. The conversation went something like this, "They have cans of macaroons on sale for just 99 cents, do you want me to get you a few?" At first I answered with an enthusiastic "Yes!", as few gluten free goodies are that low in price. Those little flourless coconut gems that are the mainstay of snacking during Passover are like week old rotting fish as soon as the holiday is over. Who wants them when you can have a Chips Ahoy? Except of course those who eat gluten-free all year.

Then, I began getting a can or two left on my doorsteps in plastic grocery bags. I had to put a stop to this. I had also purchased a cart load of various Passover cookies and cakes myself. I wasn't sure anymore of the utility of the macaroon throughout the year. What could I do with them I wracked my brain. Other than using the cans as door stops, I decided the crumbly macaroons might make a quick and easy pie crust. I took it a step further with the next Jewish holiday on my mind, and decided to use them as a crust for a Shavuos cheesecake in lieu of the traditional graham cracker crumb crust. Being cheaper than a box of gluten-free cookies, I decided this was not only a tasty choice, but an economical one as well.

It is customary to make a bevy of dairy dishes for the spring holiday of Shavuos. Since Rosie doesn't eat dairy, and most of the dishes are also made with eggs (think blintzes and quiches), I limit myself to a few dairy desserts (and provide non-dairy options for Rosie). Cheesecake is a must have though. And, being a New Yorker, I like a dense yet creamy version of this delicacy. Too much air and fluff and the cake no longer holds my interest. Farmer cheese, cottage cheese and any other cheese than brick style cream cheese (like Philadelphia brand) have no place in my cake. I decided to complement the tropical nuttiness of the coconut in the macaroon crust with the citrusy and exotic flavors of lemon and ginger for this cheesecake. The result hit just the right note. Lillie liked the crust best. I enjoyed the creamy filling.

You can leave this cheesecake bare, or top with a can of cherry or blueberry pie filling for a traditional look. If fresh berries are in season, they make a beautiful garnish. Comstock pie fillings are gluten free according to the company. It may seem "fussy" to add one egg at a time to the mixture as directed below, but it is essential for achieving the proper texture of this cheesecake.
Ginger-Lemon Cheesecake with Macaroon Crust
1-11-ounce can coconut macaroons, any flavor
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
20-ounces brick style cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees. Spray an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
Place the macaroons In a medium sized mixing bowl. Using your fingers, crumble the macaroons until they reach a crumb-like consistency. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. With your fingers, press macaroon mixture into bottoms and partially up sides of spring form pan, set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar until smooth using a handheld or stand mixer on medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Add remaining ingredients, stirring on low to combine.
Pour cream cheese mixture into crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cake appears set. Do not let top brown too much. Cool for 30 minutes on a metal rack. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours to overnight before serving.
To serve: Unmold from spring form pan and place on serving platter. Serve plain or topped with cherry or blueberry pie filling or whipped cream and fresh berries.
Serves: 10-12

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Adorable Avocados


I love the produce section at my local warehouse store. They have restaurant quality fruits and vegetables, and generally better prices than my local supermarket.

I love the variety and colors available. The mini tri-colored Holland peppers are my favorite--like little pepper offspring. Next to them today I spied a 6 pack of avocados for only $4.99. Giving them a squeeze I found my thumb sunk into the flesh just enough to indicate they were just perfect for immediate use. My mind skipped to dinner and I thought of slicing them up with tacos. But that wouldn't use up the entire bag of ripe and ready green goddesses. As I pushed my heavily laden cart into the walk in refrigerator (which was blissful in today's 80 degree heat), I thought about Mother's Day coming up this weekend and an elegant salad came to mind. Two of my favorite things are gazpacho soup and guacamole. I don't know if it is the combination of the cool fresh vegetables and piquant Latin flavors or the overall feeling of lightness when indulging in these fresh and healthy starters. I decided to combine them for a lovely layered salad that is a visual feast for a celebratory table.

You can use little footed dessert bowls, but clear "low ball" style glasses work well too. You may even layer the ingredients into a glass trifle bowl for a great addition to a potluck buffet.

I try to make this dish a bit healthier by garnishing with baked plantain chips, but you may also serve with the ever popular and naturally gluten free corn tortilla chips.
Say Ole and enjoy your day with mom.

Avocado and Cucumber Gazpacho Salad with Plantain Chips and Jalapeno Cream

3 English Cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
1 orange Holland pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow Holland pepper, seeded and diced
2 medium vine ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
2 medium ripe, firm avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons chopped, fresh chives
1/2 cup chopped scallions
¼ cup chopped, fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar

For Jalapeno Cream:
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded
1 clove garlic
¼ cup cilantro, packed
1 teaspoon lime juice

For Plantain Chips:
1 large ripe plantain
½ Tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

In a large mixing bowl, place cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and avocados. Pour lemon and lime juice over avocado mixture and toss gently to coat. In a small bowl or shaker bottle, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over salad and toss gently. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon into individual glass bowls. Top with a dollop of Jalapeno cream and garnish with 2 or 3 plantain chips. Pass additional jalapeno cream and plantain chips on the side.

For Jalapeno Cream:
In a blender or food processor, process all ingredients until well blended. Place in a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

For plantain chips:
Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Slice plantains 1/8-inch thick and place in single layer on cookie sheets. Brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle tops of plantains with salt. Broil on high on top oven rack for 5-6 minutes or until they begin to brown. Turn oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes, remove with a spatula.

Serves 6-8