Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Originally uploaded by rachelita2.

This past weekend, I went to an end-of-the-school-year dinner at Mimi's house. It was also a goodbye party for Amy, who's going the wrong direction in the typical migratory pattern of New Yorkers to Florida, to take a teaching job in the NYC area. Losing Amy is a major tragedy for the state of Florida, and for me, since she's my best friend here, but hopefully she'll be back, maybe even as a UN monitor for the next set of Florida elections.

After appetizers of queso manchego cheese, olives, and Spanish wine, we retired to the dining room for the best paella I have ever had (see photo below). A summer spent in Madrid and past trips to Sevilla and Barcelona never yielded anything half this good. Each separate ingredient held its distinctive taste and texture, and each ingredient (chicken, shrimp, chorizo, vegetables) was cooked to exact doneness, which is no small feat.

Mimi learned to make the paella from a friend who came from Alicante, Spain. She is promising to bring the recipe and discuss how she makes it. Mimi herself has an interesting summer planned-- a hiking trip along the Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

I've heard a number of stories about the origins of paella, but the most interesting one is that the dish originates with the Muslims conquerors who first brought rice to the region of Valencia. There is a word in Arabic, "baqiya," with the "q" often unpronounced, meaning "the remainder," and the story goes that one would put whatever one had left over together into a dish with the rice to make a hearty meal...

Dessert, however, I do have a recipe for. Amy, who is also a very good cook, made cheesecake with an unusual blueberry sauce, in a springform pan, a kitchen item I covet. The crust was buttery and sweet; the filling delicate, and the sauce brought it all together in a perfect balance of tart and sweetness.

Amy's Cheesecake

Graham Cracker Crust
2 c. of graham cracker crumbs (about 15 big crackers)
½ c. of melted butter
1 tsp. cinnamon

Lightly coat 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and mix together just until the crumbs are moist. Pour into bottom of springform pan, and press mixture firmly and evenly across bottom of pan, and about 1 inch up the sides. Refrigerate crust while making the cheesecake batter.

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated (save rest of lemon for blueberry sauce)
1 pint sour cream

To prepare filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute just until smooth and free of any lumps. Gradually add the sugar and beat until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to slowly beat until combined. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest. Blend in the sour cream, but do not overbeat. Pour filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

To prepare water bath: Set the pan on a couple of large pieces of aluminum foil and fold up the sides. This will prevent water from seeping into the seams of the springform pan. Carefully set the cake pan in a larger roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes. Do not worry if the cake looks undone and do not do the toothpick test. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours to set up.

Blueberry Topping:
2 tablespoons butter
2 pints blueberries (I used frozen)
½ to ¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch (mixed with a little bit of water to avoid clumps)
1 lemon, juiced

Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring up to a slow boil and stir gently for 10-15 minutes until sauce thickens and blueberries start to break down (the sauce will remain chunky). Cool to room temperature and serve on top of cheesecake.

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