Thursday, August 7, 2014

Adventures in baking....

#13 - Learn how to make a perfect New York Cheesecake

When Matt & I started dating, I would have never thought that one of the many things Matt would teach me about was cooking. Frankly, I had limited cooking skills (but could manage my way around a kitchen when needed.) Yet slowly and diligently, Matt taught me the basics of trimming meat, how to properly chop onions and garlic, and has now started to push me in the direction of his domain: the grill. Mainly, I need to learn because his job(s) take so much of his time, but also because I think he gets a thrill out of watching me cook after hearing my years of limited skills. (Too bad he doesn't know that hot dogs taste just as good when cooked in the microwave.) 

It wasn't until I started expressing an interest in baking that he finally let me have my own domain. It would be beneficial to learn how to make his favorite after-meal desserts so that we weren't buying cookies and brownies laden with calories and saturated fats. It meant more to know that the core ingredients were flour, sugar, eggs, butter, chocolate, etc. Matt would share his love of cookies, but he had also told me his favorite non-chocolate dessert: cheesecake. 

So once I impulse purchased a KitchenAid and started experimenting with baking, I knew that the one thing I wanted to perfect more than anything else was New York Cheesecake. And for those who understand, cheesecake is not an easy feat! 

My first attempt....I may not have let the cream cheese and sour cream come to room temperature enough, resulting in a delicious (but chunky) texture. Not only that, but the crust wasn't setting the way I wanted to, nor was the cheesecake solidifying as much as I had hoped. The whole venture was trial and error, learning the basics of what makes that perfect smooth and creamy texture (with a nice crunchy crust) when you take that first bite. I was more than determined to figure it out. 

I tried the water bath, I let items sit out longer to come to room temperature, I even let things mix a little more to make sure everything was incorporated as it should be. I painstakingly put love and attention into a baking challenge I gave myself. The end result? Cheesecake that was eaten like it was a last meal.

As I reflect back on my self-imposed challenge, I've realized that it wasn't so much about perfecting a difficult recipe. It was learning more about food and my relationship with it. Since the cheesecake, we mastered bread, homemade pasta, potato salad, the perfect turkey burger, macaroni & gravy, and pretty much anything we can get our hands on to cook. Using just simple ingredients rather than trying to buy pre-made has become a motto that Matt and I adhere to. Because let me tell you, you can be healthier when the carbs you are ingesting are ones that you created, not a factory assembly line. (More importantly, it became a new bond in my relationship with Matt, something we could share in together...a new venture that allowed us to learn more about one another.)

And to think, it all started from a need to challenge myself in the kitchen.

~ Jenn

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