Beans & Greens

There’s something about fall and winter foods that bring me such comfort. The hearty vegetables, decedant sauces, stick to your ribs soups and stews, all made to thaw out those chilly moments with the sense of warm coziness. YUM!

This Beans & Greens recipe makes for a quick side dish or a satisfying meal. They became a house favorite over 15 years ago when we visited some friends in Pittsburgh for their wedding. The rehearsal dinner was in this pint sized Italian restaurant called Ciao. The place was so small, only the wedding party could fit. Unfortunately, Ciao is no longer in existence. Rumor has it, the owner moved back to Italy. Certainly a loss for Pittsburgh.

Even though Michael and I fell in love with Ciao’s beans and greens, we hadn’t thought about them until a decade or so after our trip. I’m not sure what Michael was day dreaming about, but he turned to me and said he wanted to make beans and greens.

Since 10 years or so had past since we had this treat, we weren’t sure if we even came close to recreating the beans and greens from Ciao. However, we are still very happy with the outcome and during the Fall and Winter seasons, this side dish is in heavy rotation.

BEANS AND GREENS:

Serving size: 4-5 people

Active time: 20 minutes

1 pound of kale, destemmed, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 can of Great Northern Beans or Cannelloni Beans, drained and rinsed

1 small sweet onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced or a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder

1/4-1/2 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes, how spicy do you like it?

1/2  cup of chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg or more to taste.

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

1-2 teaspoons of chicken bouillon, optional

Cut the fibrous stems off the kale leaves. These are not good eats.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the onions and cook for 3-5 minutes or until soft.

Add the garlic, hot pepper flakes and nutmeg and cook for an additional minute.

Toss in the kale. Kale cooks down considerably, however, if you find you have little room in the pot to hold all the uncooked kale at once, simply cook the kale down until you can add some more.

Pour in the broth and beans. Reduce the heat to medium. Give the mixture a good stir and cover the pot for about ten minutes.

Give the beans and greens a taste, add salt and pepper and chicken bouillon.   I could eat this everyday! Make extra, this dish reheats nicely.

 

Chocolate Vanilla Cheesecake

When I think of cheesecake, I think of my brother. That boy can tear up a cheesecake. It’s his all time favorite dessert. So much so, he has asked me to make two cheesecakes at a time because he doesn’t want to share.

It must be nice to be over 6 feet tall and have the metabolism of a hummingbird. They have 100 x’s the metabolism of an elephant. Google it!

His preferred flavor is a graham cracker crust filled vanilla cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries. This is a delicious traditional cheesecake, but I like to experiment with flavors. The possibilities are endless, cheese goes with just about every food group.

I used to work at this quaint little cafe a few days a week and every Friday I would make two cheesecakes for the weekend rush. I did a lot of experimenting with flavors. During this time, I perfected 15+ different cheesecakes. I hit on every flavor combination from this Chocolate Vanilla cheesecake to an Apple crumble to S’mores.

I think my most ambitious flavor was baklava. It was a honey infused cheesecake mixed with the traditional baklava filling and wrapped in layers of filo dough. I just couldn’t figure out how to get the filo dough to get that super golden brown color. The taste was approved by a baklava expert, but the color was not that beautiful golden brown.

Oh well, that one hiccup doesn’t keep me from trying new things. How lame would I be if I let that happen?

CHOCOLATE CRUST:

1 1/2 packages of chocolate graham crackers

1 stick of unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup of sugar

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulverize the graham crackers with the sugar and salt.

PREPARATION TIP: If you don’t have a food processor, add the dry ingredients in a large ziplock bag and use a mallet to crush the crackers, salt and sugar then mix with the butter.

Slowly pour in the butter and mix until all the crackers have been moistened.

Coat an 8 inch spring form pan with nonstick cooking spray. Be generous here, you don’t want the cheesecake to stick. Dump the cracker mixture into the pan and use a glass to press the crust around the pan.

Once the crust has been pressed down, bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside while you work on the filling.

VANILLA CHEESECAKE FILLING:

2-8 ounce packages of cream cheese, bring to room temperature

3 eggs

1 cup of sugar

2 cups of sour cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste*

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

*You can find vanilla bean paste at Whole Foods or Amazon. This is an alternative to scraping the seeds from a vanilla bean pod. If you can’t locate vanilla bean paste, add 1 more tablespoon of vanilla extract. You just won’t get the vanilla bean speckled look in the filling.

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 300 or 325 degrees. Place a casserole dish filled with water on the bottom rack. Keep in mind not all ovens are created equally. I used to bake my cheesecakes at 325 degrees. When I renovated my kitchen and ruined 4 cheesecakes, I realized I had to reduce the temperature of my oven. Now I bake them at 300.

In a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. 3-4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally.

I find cracking all three eggs into a small bowl makes it easier to add eggs to the cream cheese.

Add the eggs, one at a time and beat on medium high until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition. Slowly pour in the sugar and continue to beat for 1 minute.

Dump in the sour cream and vanilla. Beat for an additional 1 minute.

Fill the spring form pan with the cheesecake filling and place on a rack directly above the casserole dish filled with water.

PREPARATION TIP: I know most people wrap their spring form pans in foil and cook their cheesecakes in a water bath. I have never done this. Frankly, I hated messing around with the foil just to find out it wasn’t completely waterproof and ended up with a soggy crust. If you prefer the water bath method, by all means water bath it up!

 

Bake the cheesecake for 45-60 minutes. The time will depend on your oven, the ones that run hot will cook the cheesecake faster. It’s a good idea to have an oven thermometer to check the temperature. I pull the cheesecake right when the ends of the cheesecake start to puff up and the center is still jiggly.

The puffiness will settle and leave you with a flat cheesecake after a few minutes.

Set up a timer for ten minutes. When the time is up, run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake. If you forget about this step, you could end up with a crack in your cheesecake. However, my mother-in-law will tell you the cheesecake isn’t done if it doesn’t have a crack! If you are a perfectionist and find your cheesecake has fractured, no worries, you will fill in the cracks with a heaping helping of chocolate ganache!

Once the cheesecake has cooled to a temperature you can handle, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Once chilled, remove from the spring form pan and transfer the cheesecake to your favorite serving dish.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE: 

3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate

1/2 cup of heavy cream

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium high heat until you see the edges start to bubble. This is scalding the cream. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and wait 30 seconds. Give the chocolate a stir until smooth. Spoon the chocolate over top of the cheesecake. Refrigerate for at least an hour. You can also add the chocolate when you initially refrigerate your cheesecake.