Families Are the Best!

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By Gini Raineycookbook_junkie[1]

I just drove back from Arlington. where the family gathered today to celebrate the youngest little’s second birthday.  Both of my daughters put on great birthday parties for their children and grandchildren, and today was no exception.  Lisa always has a theme going for the day, and Sam’s (her grandson) party had a barnyard theme.  The table was loaded with lots of fresh veggies and fruit, as well as a “cow” cake, ‘cow pies,’ mini-bales of hay (marshmallow/rice cereal treats), and 14102150_10207241244764740_8528561875198519720_nmore.  What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with family, eating cake, and celebrating life!

Another great way to spend a Sunday afternoon for me is either cooking or reading – or both!  My sister gave an incredibly beautiful cookbook for Christmas a few years ago – “Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer.  This amazing book was published in 2010 by the Taunton Press and has 295 pages that are filled with some of the most beautiful color and black and white photos.  The recipes feature some of the best our land has to offer.  Described by Padma Lakshmi, Emmy-nominated host of Top Chef as “a sumptuous and sensually beautiful book,” it contains a wealth of information about the people who produce and cook the bounty of the harvests in our country.

While you might just want to add this book to your collection for the informative text that is skillfully presented, you also might want it for ideas of how to prepare some of the lovely produce and meats that you can pick up from your local fresh markets.  The photo of the Pan-Roasted Beef Rib-Eye with Fresh Red Currant Pan Sauce is so tantalizing, as is the
harvestCrème Fraîche Galette with Heirloom Tomatoes.  The Lamb Saddle with Caramelized Fennel and Wild Mushrooms, although a bit labor-intensive, would make a lovely dish for guests or family for a holiday or a Sunday afternoon gathering.

The next Sunday that I have the time, I’m going to make the Strawberry Cheesecake with Balsamic-Roasted Strawberries.  To make this, you will first need to make a graham cracker crust in a springform pan; and although a recipe is included, it pretty much is standard, with the addition of a teaspoon of lemon zest to the graham crackers.  The best part of this cheese cake is the fresh strawberries!  You will need 3 pints, hulled, with 2 pints cut in half and one left whole.

In a medium bowl, toss the 2 pints of halved strawberries with ¼ cup of sugar and let macerate for 10 minutes.  Put the strawberries and their juice in a food processor and process until smooth.  Then, in a medium saucepan, heat ¼ cup water over a low heat and add 2 ½ teaspoons of unflavored gelatin (or agar-agar); cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly until the gelatin (agar-agar) is dissolved.  Add ½ cup milk, ½ heavy cream, ¾ cup sugar, and 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, whisking until smooth and slightly warmed, but not boiling hot.  Remove from the heat and add the strawberry pureé, 1-1/2 teaspoon of orange zest, 1-1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, let cool and pour into the cooled crust.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours before serving.  Just before serving, heat the oven to 450°, toss the remaining berries with ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.  Spread the berries on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the strawberries are slightly browned, but not mushy; transfer to a bowl with the juices.  To serve, remove the cheese cake from the springform pan, cut into slices and top with a few of the roasted strawberries and their juices.  Get ready for some great compliments on a lovely and delicious dessert!