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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Warmed, Heart & Soul

There was a great deal of family lore about Ireland as I grew up. My father’s family claims some Irish ancestry but my mother’s side is the real source of the green in our blood.  We grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers, The Chieftans and the Dubliners and passed on that tradition to our kids; who more often now are listening to The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly but, Irish is Irish.

 When I got the chance to go to Ireland a few weeks ago, it was literally a dream come true. After a couple of days in Dublin we headed north to Inishowen, in northern Donegal  and then wound our way down the west coast through Counties Sligo, Mayo, & Galway all the way down to Killarney.

You will never believe what that pot of gold at the
end of the rainbow turned out to be...

We stayed in hotels, B&B’s and hostels, simply asking each evening at the local pub for a recommendation. We ended our trip at Dromoland Castle in County Clare (another story to come) and when it finally came time, two weeks later, to fly out of Shannon Airport, I was reminded of a scene in the movie Shirley Valentine where she watches her luggage wind its way up the conveyer belt, turns and walks away from the airport, refusing to leave Greece. If my husband hadn’t been there with me…

One of the many pleasures of Ireland is the food; in particular, the dairy products. Animals raised almost exclusively on rich, emerald green (literally!) grass give milk that is astoundingly rich and flavorful.  

In Killarney National Park

While in the southwest of Ireland, we toured Killarney National Park on a ‘horse and trap’ where we met our driver, Hugh, who in turn introduced us to his mother, Sheila, who ran a B&B on their nearby dairy farm. Of course, we could not resist the opportunity to stay on a working dairy farm (Valley View Farm) where we not only watched the milking but also were treated to a demonstration by the herding dogs that are also raised and trained on the farm.

One of 'the girls' at Valley View Farm

In the US, cream commonly found in stores has lower butterfat content than that found in Ireland making it less rich and thick than its European counterpart. In my opinion, we have taken the low-fat, low calorie craze to such an extreme that we can now rarely find products that have not been overprocessed and ‘dumbed down’ from their original marvelous origins. It’s FAT. Yes. And it tastes fantastic. Can I eat it every day and stay the same weight? Um, no; but I am not willing to give it up entirely.

On the Corrig Princess

On the Corrig Princess, a river cruise boat in Galway, we watched Irish Coffee made and that incredible, thick, rich cream spooned on top. While to whip or not to whip the cream is somewhat controversial among purists, I prefer a softly whipped version (call it a compromise), using high butterfat ‘old fashioned’ heavy whipping cream.  

Other controversies, to garnish with cocoa or nothing; brown sugar, raw sugar or cane sugar; or what brand of Irish Whiskey tastes best, I leave to others. I will listen in with my chilly hands wrapped around my own steaming mug of Irish Coffee.

Sipping at the source

And p.s. – don’t stir in the cream or they will know you are a 'Yank'. Sip through the cream for a delightful melding of hot rich sweetened coffee, Irish Whiskey and cool thick cream on top.


Irish Coffee
A Tasty Tutorial

In a chilled bowl, whip ½ pint of heavy whipping cream
Use the highest butterfat content whipping cream you can find for authentic flavor & thickness

Brew fresh, hot strong coffee

Warm a footed glass Irish Coffee Mug by filling with hot water

When the coffee is ready, discard the water and add 1 teaspoon of raw sugar to the mug, stir to dissolve sugar

Fill the mug 2/3 full with hot coffee

Add 1 ounce of good Irish Whiskey to the coffee
(Jameson, Powers, etc.)

Top with thickened, lightly whipped cream

Sprinkle the top of the whipped cream with unsweetened
cocoa powder, if you wish

Drink without stirring, the heavy blanket of cream holds in the heat of the coffee and the ‘warmth’ of the Irish Whiskey

Friday, February 24, 2012

Surprise Me~ Frozen Mango Mascarpone Cheesecake

Frozen Mango-Mascarpone Cheesecake

I do love a good cocktail party. From the guests toasting the man of the hour to right down to the fun mix of canapés and the end of the evening liqueur and cigars around the fire, they are, by far, my favorite type of event. And in a year of economic frustration and endless political fear-mongering, sometimes it feels good just to forget all of the craziness and kick back with friends.

My friends Kevin and Steve are Kings of the Cocktail Party and when I was asked to pull one together as a surprise for Steve's “40-somethingth” birthday, I was all in. By the time Steve arrived home, my favorite bartender, Marc, had been behind the bar entertaining guests and I had set out Bacon wrapped Medjool Dates filled with Foie Gras, Strawberries Stuffed with Honey Apricot Goat Cheese, Cornbread Crostini with Grilled Pork Tenderloin and little Caprese Skewers of grape tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. And all of this prepared in the kitchen of my RV. Challenging, yes. Impossible? Apparantly not!

I believe the biggest mistake most people make when trowing a cocktail party is to over-think it. To me, the key elements of a great party are:
  • Invite only people who you find fun and entertaining (leave the picky-crabby people at home)
  • Play fun music
  • Keep the food simple and prep ahead as much as possible
  • Buy food from a great source to save time when needed
  • If you can afford to hire a server and/or a bartender who will clean up as you go, do it. Money well spent. You can enjoy your own party and will not have to wake up to a disaster the next day.
  • And especially, remember: no one but you knows what is being served. If something flops, leave it out and smile.
There are a few things that are just perennial favorites and so easy to execute that I often reinvent them to vary them from occasion to occasion.

One such item is a recipe borrowed from Cove Point Lodge on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. They serve a ridiculously good Frozen Honey-Cinnamon Mascarpone Cheesecake and I have made it for a number of events. 

Sunset at Cove Point Lodge on Lake Superior

This time though, when it was requested for a dinner party with friends, I decided to mix it up. The original recipe has a praline crust and is topped with cinnamon that is swirled through the batter. Having a sudden urge for Mango (these things happen to me), I decided to make a Meyer Lemon Cookie Crust, leave out the cinnamon, and swirl in Mango Sorbet. The entire recipe takes about 20 minutes to mix and all you do is pop it into the freezer until firm. Crazy easy and crazy good. 

Ready for the freezer
Frozen Mango Mascarpone Cheesecake
Don't be afraid to play with this. Make it with a chocolate crust and swirl in caramel and chocolate sauce before freezing. Or make a shortbread crust with a marmalade/lemon curd swirl.

For the Crust
9 oz box Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins (or any lemon shortbread type cookie)
3 oz butter, melted

Place the cookies in a food processor and process until ground. Add melted butter and mix well. Press cookie crust into the bottom of a springform pan.

Yes, I shop at Trader Joe's but any brand will work

For the Filling:
1¼ cups whipping cream, whipped
8 oz Cream Cheese
8 oz Mascarpone Cheese
(Don't know how so say it? “mass-car-poan” -do not pronounce the 'e' at the end)
13 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk
¼ cup Honey or Blue Agave Syrup
1½ pints Mango Sorbet, softened slightly (not liquid)

Whip the Cream, scrape into another bowl and set aside.
Without cleaning the mixing bowl, beat the Cream Cheese and the Mascarpone until soft and well combined. Add the Sweetened Condensed Milk and the Honey or Agave.
Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides a few times.
Fold in the whipped cream until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter onto the crumb crust.
preparing the Mango Sorbet

In the same bowl (no need to wash) place the slightly softened Mango Sorbet. Cut into chunks in the bowl if needed. Beat until the Sorbet looks like a similar consistency to the cream cheese mixture. It should be smooth and should mound on a spoon.

Mixing in the sorbet

Drop spoonfuls of the sorbet onto the top of the cheesecake. Use a table knife to swirl the sorbet through the cheesecake mixture being careful not to dip into the crust at the bottom. This is done with a folding motion similar to adding the whipped cream but this time leave large streaks of Mango through the batter. 


Place the pan or pans in the freezer for at least 4 hours or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap once the cheesecake is completely frozen. This can be made up to one week in advance and held frozen.

To serve, let the cake sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cut into slices. Makes 12-16 servings depending on the slice size desired.

Recipe Notes:
  • I used 4: 6” springform pans. No Springform? Line a straight sided cake pan with foil and continue. Once frozen you can pull the cheesecake from the pan, remove the foil and cut. Works like a charm.
  • Running a large sharp knife under hot water makes for cleaner cutting.
  • This recipe is neither low calorie nor low fat. I am a believer in making a great dish and eating less of it vs. modifying it to control calories.