Tuesdays with Mary

Every Tuesday night my friends and I get together in the charming little kitchen of my friend Maryanne’s Lakeview apartment and make dinner. Not only is it a great time to hang out and socialize, it’s healthier for us (okay, this is mostly a lie), it beefs up our cooking skills and makes us feel oh-so-cool, like hipsters starting our own supper club.

It all started last year when Maryanne asked me to give her a few “lessons” so she could make Easter dinner for her family. Her menu was quite ambitious – herb-crusted rack of lamb, roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, asparagus with Boursin cheese. We made the entire meal the week before (along with wine pairings) and wrote down the steps on how and in what order to prepare everything. She pulled it off with flying colors (she even made her own makeshift piping bag – to drizzle the Boursin cheese over the asparagus – out of a Ziploc bag) and now her family expects her to cook all the time!

Since then we’ve included other friends at our Tuesday night dinners and expanded our repertoire – Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Filet Mignon with homemade Béarnaise Sauce, Pasta with Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes. Each week we make a different meal and try to (sometimes) make it healthier.

Since it’s a weeknight we always try to find a quick appetizer to munch on while we drink wine and prepare dinner. Usually it’s a nice piece of cheese with fancy crackers, or fresh bread with good butter (Plugra or Kerrygold) and a sprinkle of sea salt. For dessert we grab a brownie from our café here at Eli’s or beg/borrow/steal a few slices of our new cheesecake flavors for dessert (yes, it’s a tough job working here, but someone’s got to do it). That gave us the idea to combine the two and make a savory cheesecake appetizer.

Savory cheesecakes (I’ve made them with smoked salmon, blue cheese, jalapenos, wasabi and ginger…) are great to serve with crackers and look fancy enough for holiday meals. Here at Eli’s we make them for special events and occasions only, so to make up for it I’ve included Eli’s recipe for goat cheese cheesecake below (see our director of R&D, Chef Moles, unmolding one of the little beauties, left). Or, for a tasty alternative a whole lot faster, try topping Eli’s Original Plain with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Trust me – you’ll love it.

You should also visit our annual Cheesecake Festival (September 20-21) and see guest Chef Robert Walter from Goodwill Great Lakes and his free demonstration on warm salmon cheesecake with wilted greens and caper/roasted red onion vinaigrette – my mouth is watering already!

Our exec VP of operations and chief culinarian Jolene Worthington will make this delicious goat cheese cheesecake at Chicago’s Green City Market Summer BBQ this Wednesday. It’s a good summer dish because it’s so fresh-tasting (you will have to turn on the oven for a bit – but at a low temp). Enjoy!

Eli’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake
Serves 12
2 oz. Cream Cheese (1/4 of an 8 oz. package)
1 cup Goat cheese, like Chevre
1/2 cup Ricotta Cheese
1/4 cup Mascarpone Cheese
1/4 cup Sour Cream
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tbsp. Cake Flour
3 Large Eggs
Zest of One Lemon

Pre-heat oven to 275º F. Begin with all of your ingredients at room temperature.

In a food processor, puree the ricotta cheese until smooth. Set aside. Beat the cream cheese in an electric mixer until smooth. Add goat cheese, mascarpone and ricotta and beat until incorporated. Add sugar, flour, lemon zest and cream until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition to incorporate all ingredients. Fold in sour cream until just blended.

Fill buttered ramekins with batter and sprinkle about 1 tbsp. of crust mixture on top of each. Bake in a water bath* for about 20 minutes or until cheesecakes reach an internal temperature of about 150º F. Allow to cool to room temperature. Run a knife around the inside of the ramekin to loosen cake. Invert onto a plate and gently tap to remove cheesecake. Serve with strawberries (below) if desired.

Toasted Almond Crust:
1/2 cup Toasted Almonds, Chopped
1/2 cup Shortbread Cookies, Crushed
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Melted Butter
1 tsp. Salt
12 – 6 oz. Ramekins

Coarsely chop shortbread cookies and almonds in a food processor. Add sugar, salt, and butter and pulse until just incorporated and mixture holds together when squeezed between your fingers. Cover tightly and set aside.

*Water bath – place the ramekins into a deep pan (a lasagna pan or large cake pan would work) and fill the pan with hot water until it reaches half way up the sides of the ramekin. Place entire pan in oven to bake. This will help keep the bake slow and low.

Strawberries with Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena is a lovely, aromatic herb. It is available at Farmer’s Markets and some grocery stores. You could also use Lemon Thyme.

1 pint Whole, small strawberries, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tsp. Chopped Lemon Verbena Leaves
1 Tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

In a small bowl, mix sugar and Lemon Verbena leaves together with your fingers. Place strawberries in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with lemon juice and sugar/verbena mixture. Set aside for 30 minutes before serving with goat cheese cheesecakes.

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