Lemon Curd Cheesecake – A Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple.  They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.

Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat.  Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care.  They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake.  This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps.  Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat.  Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

The recipes that ran in the Portland Press Herald today, Vanilla Cheesecake and Lemon Curd Cheesecake, are both favorites in our family.  There I also write about how to freeze and thaw cheesecakes, making them a perfect make-ahead dessert.  The Lemon Curd Cheesecake has been a holiday dessert for years, appeasing those who are done with the chocolate overload.

Happy baking!

Healthy Superbowl Sunday Menu

For those who know me, but don’t live with me, it sometimes comes as a shock to find that I love football and specifically, the Patriots.

Photo Credit:  AP
Photo Credit: AP

While our guys didn’t play as well as we know they can for the AFC Championship this year… and while I’m still adjusting to the fact that my Sundays will no longer be spent having a blast cheering on my team, there is a small light to this whole thing. I could actually have people over for Superbowl Sunday now.  When I was sure that I would be watching the Patriots, I worried that maybe guests weren’t the best choice.  One, what if I got grumpy because my team did what they did last weekend and struggled on defense AND offense?  (Grumpy definitely happened last weekend.)  Two, what if I needed to be hostess, but really all I wanted to do was watch the game?  No, guests weren’t a good idea I said honestly to myself.  But now, I’m good.

Now that that’s settled, what’s the menu?  Well it could be pounds of chips and dip that would require weeks of running and P90X to burn off… OR it could be Texas Beef and Black Bean Chili, Cheesy Corn Muffins, Easy Salsa, Salsa Dip.

See ya next year, guys!

Baked Brie – Holiday Appetizers for a Crowd

Wow!  The response to the Orange Marmalade Pound Cake post was serious.  Ya’ll really like your citrus, huh?  Thanks for all the emails and comments.  It’s always fun to chat with everyone.

Today my Maine Ingredient column ran and it’s on all different kinds of baked brie.  Who doesn’t love that?  My favorite (today at least) is the Walnut and Lemon Marmalade Bake Brie.  Are we seeing a citrus trend here?


This one is the Crushed Pretzel and Garlic-Crusted Baked Brie

Getting ready for a couple of catering jobs and then the Dinner Subscriptions begin!

Make Your Own Boursin

In this weeks The Maine Ingredient I share a recipe for Boursin Mashers to accompany Delicata Squash with Thyme and Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Turkey Meatloaf. Comfort food.

Boursin is actually a trademark for a type of cheese that originated in Gournay, France that has since been swallowed by the business of food.  The cheese is readily available in the deli section of the grocery store, but a close substitute can easily be made at home with cream cheese, herbs and garlic.

This is also nice as an easy hors d’oeuvres served with crackers, crostinis or crudités

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend well.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 cup

Happy fall!

** Sugar & Salt: A Year at Home & at Sea is now available for purchase. ** 

Catering for 20 – Ahhh, Now We’re Talking

Sometimes it’s such a relief to cook for the same number I cook for all summer long.  It must sound funny, but it’s actually LESS thinking for me.  I don’t have to hold back on amounts like I do when cooking for the family or testing recipes and even then half the time I end up with twice as much as I need!  This job came a while ago, but no matter, it has some of my favorites, one of which is oft requested on the Riggin, Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Dip.  When I take these platters of bubbly, crusty, cheesy flavor out of my wood stove on the boat and bring them on deck to a crowd of hungry sailors, they NEVER come back empty.  I’ve taken to setting some aside for the crew so that they get a bite as well.

food for a crowd

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

dip for crudite

Could the color of these veggies be any prettier?  That’s White Bean and Roasted Garlic Dip for the vegans.

dip for crudites

More dip, cause we all gotta have our veggies!

easy appetizers for a crowd

Roasted Mushroom Pate en Croute – another one that never comes back empty.  For me, this is one that I have to say to myself, “Step awaaay from the food.  Awaaaay.”

appetizers for a crowd

This one is my favorite because it’s so pretty.  Sesame Soy Udon noodles are wrapped around forks and served on a bed of shaved bright purple cabbage.  Guests just take one or two forks for their plates.

appetizers for a crowd

Delicata Squash and Goat Cheese Tartlets – kinda pop in your mouth goodness.

Playing in my winter kitchen

A Perfect Snowy Day Dinner – Mashed Potato, Portobello Mushrooms & Swiss Chard w/Goat Cheese

The word “casserole” conjures up images of canned cream of-fill-in-the-blank soup from my childhood.  I grew up in the Midwest, in a household that watched the price of milk and bought in bulk when it went on sale, which meant that we were no stranger to casseroles of the tuna variety and others.   While my food tastes have changed and so have my parents’ tastes, right along with their income, I still occasionally call home for a childhood recipe when I’m looking for a one-pot meal to satisfy my children and the child who still lives in me.

Simply put, while the name is old-fashioned, a casserole is just a one-pot meal with the protein starch and vegetable all in one dish.  Preferably with a crispy topping, please.  Casseroles from our past don’t have to include canned soup to be hearty, one-pot meals.  And they don’t have to be something only served for a weeknight dinner.  Served in individual bowls or large ramekins and topped with a garnish, you quickly turn an everyday meal into a simple meal fit for entertaining.

This is a wonderful comfort meal for a snowy, winter evening, with friends or just family.

Casserole of Mashed Potato, Portobello Mushrooms and Swiss Chard with Goat Cheese

For the mushrooms and Swiss chard:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 Portobello mushrooms
1 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped and cleaned well
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

For the potatoes:
8 medium red potatoes, peeled and whole
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the water

4 oz. goat cheese

For the mushrooms and Swiss chard:
Preheat oven to 400°.  Place the mushrooms and Swiss chard on a roasting pan and sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 40-45 minutes.  The Swiss chard may be done before the mushrooms at about 30 minutes.  It’s done when it’s wilted and the stems are tender.  Remove the Swiss chard with tongs and transfer to a medium sized bowl.  Toss with balsamic vinegar.  Continue to cook the mushrooms until they begin to get darker on the edges.  When the mushrooms are done, let them cool briefly and then slice thinly into long strips.

For the potatoes:
Place the potatoes in a medium stockpot and cover with salted water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork.  Drain the water; add the butter, milk and salt and whip with a hand mixer.

Reduce oven heat to 350°.  In four 2-cup oven proof bowls, layer the potatoes, mushrooms and Swiss chard, beginning and ending with the potatoes.  Sprinkle with goat cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges of the potatoes begin to brown.

Serves 4 (or 6 if you use smaller bowls)

Herbed Feta Cheese

Herbed Feta Cheese

This recipe is only practical if you grow your own herbs, otherwise it gets to be pretty costly.  But maybe you have a friend who would be willing to have you raid his or her herb garden for, say, a lovely wedge of herbed feta cheese?

This recipe also makes a wonderful summertime appetizer.  Instead of making the Tomato and Kalamata Olive Salad, use whole Kalamata olives and tomato and lemon slices to decorate a platter.  If you’ve got extra herbs use them too.  It’s a beautiful presentation with all the different colors.


1 pound piece (or several large chunks) good quality feta cheese
8-10 fresh sage leaves
1 small handful fresh dill sprigs
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small bunch Greek oregano
4 sprigs of Italian parsley
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed

To serve:
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Sprigs of herbs for garnish

Place the cheese, herbs, spices, and lemon slices in a Ziploc bag.  Add olive oil until the cheese is covered (you’ll use less oil if you squeeze out air as you add oil).  Seal the bag and refrigerate at least 6 hours (24 hours is even better).

To serve:

Remove the cheese from the bag, reserving the oil.  Cut the cheese into bite-size slices and arrange the slices on a platter with the sliced lemon.  Drizzle with the reserved oil and garnish with herbs.

Serve at room temperature with crackers or pita bread.

Serves 6-8

Signs of Spring – Maine Windjammer Style

Ahh, the sounds, sights and smells of spring – Maine windjammer style.  The constant drone of a sander, the bustle of crew trekking into the house on a cloud of sanding dust and the pungent odor of paint thinner wafting through the air.  Blowing paint dust buggers, chapped and hardened hands, Carharts so dotted with paint that it obscures the original color and honor of all honors, so well-worn that they sport a hole or two in the knees or butt.  Rainy days spent in the barn with the music cranked while telling stories of our winters.  Sunny days spent down on the schooner, warm under the cover, sanding and sanding and sanding.  Sanding until your brain turns to mush and your arms, even after the sander has been turned off, still feel the vibration.  Hands that are temporarily set in a claw shape that looks normal when holding a sander but appears either gruesome or intimidating when you’ve put the sander down.

This is the time of year when I’m just as likely to yearn for something grilled as something simmering on the stove top all day long or baked in a warm oven, sometimes feeling the exuberant energy of spring and sometimes still hankering for a good cozy on the couch.  It all depends on what the weather is doing outside, what I want inside my belly.

Today it’s a breezy, bright but chilly day and I made these scones for the crew when they took a break from the drone of the sander.

Stilton Blue Cheese, Canadian Bacon and Chive Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 ounces crumbled stilton blue cheese, about 1 1/4 cups
6 ounces diced Canadian bacon, about 1 1/4 cups
1/2 cup minced chives
3/4  cup cold buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 450°.  Combine the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Use a pastry cutter or your hands to cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles a fine meal. Do the same with the cheese.  Mix the bacon and chives into the mix.  Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk and eggs into flour mixture just until the dough binds together.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently until combined, about 10 turns.  Pat the dough out to 1-inch thick round.  Cut into 8 wedges and transfer  to an ungreased cookie pan.  Bake until golden brown and firm to touch, about 20 minutes.

Makes 8

Dusting off flour dust and sanding dust…

French Onion Soup

In the spring, one of my favorite people gifted me with her mother’s french onion soup crocks and while I was excited to share about it then, it was too close to summer for anyone but me to be all that jazzed about French Onion Soup.  Only in Maine would someone find a day cool enough in June to still be wearing a sweater and thinking something warm and cozy for dinner.  SO, here we are in October and I managed to wait.  Yeah, me.

French Onion Soup

This is not the most traditional way to make French onion soup, but it sure is tasty and it doesn’t take four hours to sweat the onions.  Dawn, a galley colleague, makes it this way every week on her boat.  She made it for us one night and it was so yummy I had to develop a recipe for it.

Now, with the proper bowls and an honest to goodness salamander (restaurant broiler), I make crostini instead of croutons and melt the cheese the traditional way with the crostini floating as a raft in the soup and the cheese a generous mound on top.  Only a minute or two under the broiler produces bubbly, melted goodness.

This soup is infinitely better when made with homemade beef stock or broth.  I know it adds to the time factor but if you make the stock in batches to have on hand, it’s so worth the effort, and so much better for you.

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
5 cups onions (3 to 5 onions)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup red wine
6 cups beef stock
5 oz. grated Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups diced country or French bread

Preheat oven to 400°.  Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onions and sauté for 15-20 minutes or until all of the onions are soft, translucent and golden brown.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir in flour and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add wine and then the beef stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for at least 1/2 hour.  Meanwhile, toss bread cubes with butter and spread onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes or until the croutons are golden and crispy.  Serve the soup with cheese and croutons on the side so your guests can add the amount that they like of each.

Serves 4-6

Comfort Food Fan

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Cook the Book – Warm Cheddar and Horseradish Dip

I love this dip.  Mostly because I’m a sucker for most anything with cheese that ends up bubbly and gooey with a edge that’s darkened to brown and a little crispy.  It’s one I use all the time on the Riggin.  Sometimes I serve it with crackers so that folks can scoop.  A more festive way to serve the dip is to dig out the center of a round loaf of bread and cut the center into 1-inch cubes.  Warm the dip in a double boiler and pour it into the center of the bread and serve with the bread cubes.  Usually I make my own bread, but if it’s the first night of a trip, I do myself a favor and buy a few good loaves at Atlantic Bakery in Rockland.

Warm Cheddar and Horseradish Dip

4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.  Combine all the ingredients by hand or in a food processor.  Spoon the mixture onto an ovenproof platter.  Bake for 20 minutes until the dip is bubbling around the edges.

Ooey, gooey and cheesy, hmmm.

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