Christmas Dinner

I hope you all had an incredible Christmas with loved ones and are enjoying the lull until the new year. 2016 has been really tough for many of us, but upon reflection, I have to admit that I had a really good and extremely blessed year. It was full of wonder and adventure and opportunity, and was so fulfilling on so many levels – emotional, professional, cerebral, physical. It sure had its challenging moments, but in retrospect, those were such rich learning moments. There was so much laughter and joy – and so much generosity and an abundance of good things. I am so grateful – I really could not have wished for a better year or for better people to have spent it with.

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David and I hosted Christmas dinner for our families this year, so we attempted to cram 11 of us into our very tiny home. I prepped a pretty traditional meal of prime rib with a red wine au jus (thank you Food Lab), along with an assortment of accompaniments including a goat cheese, pear and spinach salad; Dungeness crab cakes; garlic shrimp; sauteed cremini mushrooms; classic popovers; and caramel flan and berry cheesecake for dessert. I unfortunately did not get pictures of the meal, but did have lots of leftovers, which really do not give the food any justice. Twice-cooked meat and day-old cheesecake — not pretty. But, I would eat these leftovers any day.

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Ad Hoc Cheesecake
Source: Ad Hoc at Home
This is my favorite cheesecake recipe. Period. I’ve been making it for years and cannot believe that I haven’t blogged it yet. The custard is dense and creamy and so so velvety. I added a strawberry coulis on top, but you could really do anything to it or serve it as is. I personally like a tart berry coulis to contrast with the sweet custard, but several members of our family really would have preferred a sweet topping, like caramel or chocolate. To each their own. This recipe is pretty straightforward, though I cannot stress enough the importance of having the ingredients at room temp – it makes combining them so much easier and really helps with those lumps! Also, you’ll notice that my cheesecake is a bit yellow-toned, and that’s due to the orange egg yolks that our backyard chickens produce. They’ve clearly been eating well! And lastly – I really like a thick crust so doubled the crust recipe – you certainly don’t have to.

Ingredients
Crust:
1 c graham cracker crumbs
3 tbs granulated sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
1 lb (2 packages) full-fat cream cheese
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp fresh lemon juice [I had really sweet lemons, so ended up using 2 tsp]
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 c + 2 tbs heavy cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 325*F. Combine the ingredients for the crust and press into a 9 inch springform pan and go up the sides. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned, and set aside to cool.

Bring a pot of water to boil for a bath.
In a mixing bowl with a hand beater or with a stand mixer, combine the cheeses and sugar at a low speed to mix, then raise to medium speed for 3 minutes until light and smooth. Try to beat out any lumps you find.

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In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and the extra yolks, and drizzle in the lemon juice. Add the lemon-egg mixture to the cream cheese mixture, and continue to beat at medium-low speed to combine, ensuring that there are no lumps. Lastly, add the lemon zest and heavy cream and combine.

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Meanwhile, wrap the cooled springform pan in foil to prevent water from entering the pan. Fill the springform pan with the cheesecake mixture, so it’s level with the top of the graham cracker crust. If you have extra custard, you can save it for smaller molds/ramekins.

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Place the foiled springform pan into a large and deep baking dish (great time to pull out that Pyrex), and fill with boiling water until it comes up halfway of the pan. This water bath ensures a steady baking temp that will prevent the cheesecake from cracking during baking and cooling. This is a necessary step.
Carefully place the entire baking pan + springform pan into the oven and bake for an hour at 325*F until set. When you check on it, the top may jiggle just a bit, but you can clearly see that it’s set and not wet. Once cooked, remove the baking pan + springform pan combo, and allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the water bath, about 1-2 hours. Then remove from the water bath, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Top with coulis, caramel or melted chocolate, to your own liking.

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To serve, run a warm knife along the edges, then carefully remove the springform ring. Slice and enjoy.

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I was really surprised when everyone at the table finished their slice of cheesecake… even my mom doesn’t love cheese and definitely not cheesecake! It was a proud moment, and I give all credit to this awesome Ad Hoc recipe. I think the mascarpone really helped to lighten it up, as did all that lemon zest and lemon juice. I also really loved my berry coulis – so festive and perfectly sweet-tart. Yum. I’ll be sharing my favorite popover recipe shortly, so stay tuned.

Until then, thanks for reading and stay warm out there!
AnhD

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