Rich Penne with Four Cheeses

I wanted to create a baked pasta dish that would be a little different and maybe a little more elegant than my standard (but still delicious) baked ziti.  I like the color of the sauce in this dish; it’s light pink, almost the color of a vodka sauce. I tested this  new dish out on my children, and they loved it.  Then I prepared it for a Christmas Eve party that I was doing all of the cooking for at my beau Jim’s house. I think you will agree that this cheesy, rich dish is just delicious!

  • Kosher salt 
  • 1 pound penne rigate pasta (I like the brand De Cecco best because it stays al dente) 
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 12 ounces crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim)
  • 4 ounces fontina cheese, cut into a medium dice
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into a medium dice (you can substitute regular mozzerella cheese)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (for dotting over the top of the dish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 rectangular or oval baking dish.

In a very large pot, bring salted water to a boil.  Put the cream, the tomatoes, the romano cheese, the ricotta cheese, the mozzarella cheese, the fontina cheese, the pepper, and the red pepper in a large mixing bowl. Then cook the penne to al dente.  Drain the pasta well in a colander, and then add to all the ingredients in the mixing bowl.  Mix well with a rubber spatula.  Pour into prepared baking dish.  Dot with butter.  Bake until bubbly and browned on top, about 35 minutes. 

Note:  You can prepare this up to 2 days in advance and put in the refrigerator unbaked.  Then let it come to room temperature before you bake it.  If you bake it right out of the refrigerator add 15 minutes to the baking time.      

Shrimp Scampi over Spaghetti

This is a delicious shrimp scampi recipe, with tons of flavor.  The recipe below will serve about 3-4 people, and you can double it if you are serving more people.  It is tasty and delicious!

  • 1 pound large or extra large uncooked shrimp (easiest is using frozen peeled and deveined shrimp straight from the freezer)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped or crushed garlic (about 6-7 cloves) (chopped gives more flavor)
  • fresh ground pepper to taste (about 15 good grinds)
  • Kosher salt, about 2 teaspoons (reduce salt to 1 1/2  teaspoons if your butter is salted)
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • about 1/4 cup of fresh parsley, or more if you like
  • zest of 1 lemon, grated (zest is the yellow part only)
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2/3 pound of spaghetti ( I like De Cecco the best because even if you cook it past al dente, it stays firm)

Peel and devein the shrimp.  You can do this a few hours in advance and then keep refrigerated until you are ready to cook the dish. But if you use the frozen peeled and deveined shrimp, you can take the bag of shrimp right out of the freezer and pour it right into the pan.  How easy that is!

Heat water in large pot.  Add salt to the boiling water.  Cook your spaghetti according to the directions on the box (for al dente), and then drain.  Try to coordinate the cooking so that the pasta is done when the shrimp is done.

In a large saute pan (I did not use a non-stick pan for this, but you can if that’s what you have), melt the butter over low heat.  Add the olive oil.  Add the red pepper flakes and cook over  low to medium heat for 1 minute.  Then add the garlic.  Cook over low heat for 1  minute until the garlic is translucent- you do not want the garlic to become browned! If your garlic becomes burned, you really need to start over.  Add the shrimp,  the Kosher salt, and the pepper, and raise the temperature to medium.  Saute the shrimp, turning it so the shrimp gets cooked on all sides for 4-6 minutes just until the shrimp turn pink. Add a very light sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and 1 or 2 cracks of black pepper. Taste one shrimp to see if it is done.  Turn the heat off under the pan and add the lemon juice, the zest of the lemon, and the parsley.  Mix well.    Immediately add the cooked spaghetti to the pan and toss well to combine. If your spaghetti is totally cool when you add it to the pan, then put the flame on medium for a minute as you toss the spaghetti with the sauce, so that the pasta warms through.  Put on a large platter or in a large serving bowl and serve immediately.

Note:  You may substitute linguine for spaghetti.

Hints:  Room temperature lemons yield more juice than cold lemons.  If you are using lemons straight out of the fridge, then push down on them, one at a time, and roll them on the counter.  This helps to increase the amount of juice your lemon will yield.  Also, always keep Minute Maid frozen lemon juice on hand in your refrigerator just in case you need fresh lemon juice, and you don’t have fresh lemons.

Judy’s Best Brisket

This recipe was adapted by me from my Aunt Florence’s brisket recipe.  I loved brisket growing up.  Although I liked my mother’s brisket a lot, it didn’t hold a candle to my Aunt Florence’s, which I was lucky enough to eat every Passover at her house.  When I saw that platter of brisket arriving at the table, my mouth was watering.  The meat was such a dark brown, rich color, and the flavor of the meat when it hit my tongue was heavenly; there really are no sufficient words to describe how good that brisket tasted to me.  I was always worried there wouldn’t be enough for me.  Luckily, there usually was.  Anyway, I started making this brisket around 1978 right after I got married.  I couldn’t wait to start making my aunt’s amazing brisket.  I followed my Aunt Florence’s recipe, but I did change the cooking method.  She cooked the brisket in a pot for the whole cooking time.  But I decided to start the cooking on the stove, and then transfer the pot into the oven for a few hours.  This method resulted in the brisket having the same incredible dark brown color and rich taste, but the meat was much more tender.  My brisket became the talk of the family.  I had achieved great heights in cooking when I mastered my aunt’s incomparable brisket!

  • About 5 pounds brisket, first or thin cut- you can use 1 big piece or 2 smaller pieces
  • About 5-6 medium to large onions
  • About 2 fat or 4 thin carrots
  • Kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder

Season both sides of the meat pretty heavily with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Peel and quarter the onions and put them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Pulse the onions until they resemble the consistency of chunky apple sauce.  Put the onions on the bottom of a large dutch oven or very large oven-proof pot.  Then, slice the carrots into very thin sticks or grate them  onto the top of the onions in the dutch oven.  Place the meat on top of the onions and carrots.  Pour about 1 cup of cold water around the meat.  Cover the dutch oven.  Put the heat on medium, and bring the water to a boil.  Cook on a high simmer about 30 minutes with the cover on.  Then take the cover off and cook on high heat until all the liquid evaporates.  The onions and carrots and meat will start to brown.  Lift the meat up with a strong metal spatula and mush the vegetables around.  Turn the meat eventually when it’s really brown on the bottom.  It will almost be burning a little, as will the vegetables.  When that starts to happen, add more cold water, about 1 cup.  Notice the color of the gravy.  It probably will be a light to medium brown.  That isn’t dark enough.  Let the new liquid reduce down and evaporate.  The meat and vegetables will be browning more.  When all liquid is evaporated add another cup of cold water.  If the gravy is dark and rich, you are ready for the next step.  If you still think the gravy is not dark, repeat the reducing and browning process one more time.

When you have decided that your gravy is dark and rich, add one more cup of water.  There should be lots of gravy now around the meat.  Cover the dutch oven or pot (I use aluminum foil first and then I put the cover on top of that).  Put the dutch oven into the oven at about 350 degrees.  Let it cook for about 2 hours.  Take it out, uncover it, and check it for tenderness.  put a fork in.  If it is done, the fork will go in very easily.  It probably won’t be tender enough at this point.  Add some more water if the gravy has reduced too much.  Cover the meat, and put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.  Check again, and put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.  It might be ready at this point.  The meat usually needs at least 3 hours in the oven.  Sometimes, depending on the meat, I have actually kept it in the oven for 4 or 5 hours.  Now, if one of your pieces of brisket is tender before the other, take that piece out and let it cool on a late.  When the rest of the meat is done, take it out and put it on a plate.  The meat should cool for about 1 hour before you slice it.  Use an electric knife and slice it against the grain about 1/4 inch thick.  Pour all the gravy into whatever dish you plan to heat the meat up in when you serve it.  You can also pour the gravy into a disposable aluminum roasting pan, if you plan to heat it up in that.  Trim any fat off your slices, then place them in the gravy and smoosh the gravy into the meat.  If you think the gravy has reduced too much, you may add some water to it to make some more gravy.  You can put the meat into the refrigerator up to 3 days before you will be reheating and serving it.  I usually take the brisket out of the refrigerator one or two hours before I start to reheat it.  You can cook this and freeze it, but I don’t think it tastes quite as good.   

The Best Light and Creamy Cheesecake (Passover Version Included)

Forget The Cheesecake Factory!  You Can Learn To Bake The Most Amazing Cheesecake In The World!  

I adapted this recipe from one that was given to my mother and to me by another one of our wonderful neighbors, Lenore Velinsky.  Lenore was a marvelous cook.  She really loved cooking for her husband Arthur, and for her three boys, Richard, Ira, and Jimmy.  This was her cheesecake recipe, and it was amazing.  I have baked it many times, and it has always come out perfectly.  For me, this is the quintessential cheesecake. This cheesecake is light yet creamy. It has undertones of lemon and only a hint of vanilla. The taste is so wonderful, that the only topping I like to put on is a sprinkling of cut up strawberries or nothing at all.  I love to make this cheesecake recipe for special celebrations or bring it to family gatherings. Everybody goes wild for this cheesecake! Please try it.  I know you’ll agree that it’s the dreamiest cheesecake ever. If you bring this cheesecake with you to a gathering of friends or family, you will be the Next Cooking Star.  I know you’ll agree that this cheesecake is nothing less than heavenly!

For the crust:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 stick melted butter or margarine (try reducing to 6 tablespoons next time)

  • 1/2 cup  finely chopped pecans (optional) (I like addition of nuts to crust)

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional) (cinnamon adds flavor)

For the filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds Philadelphia brand cream cheese (5- 8 oz. packages, at room temperature (I often use 3 packs of the Philadelphia 1/3 Less Fat- Neufchatel, and 2 packs of the regular, but you may use all regular) 6-1-10- this time I used all regular, and it definitely is richer and maybe a little heavier- so I think I like it better with 2 of the light and 3 of the regular or 3 of the light and 2 of the regular.)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 5 extra-large eggs, separated at room temperature

  • 1 pint sour cream (not light)

  • pinch of salt

  • Juice of 1 large lemon or 2 smaller lemons (about 3 tablespoons fresh or in a pinch 1 1/2 tablespoons frozen Minute Maid lemon juice)

  • 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping (optional):

  • 1 quart fresh strawberries sliced and piled on top (or served on the side), but optional

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

To make the crust, grease a 10 inch springform pan, bottom and sides. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter and chopped pecans in a bowl. Then pour some crumbs into the bottom of your pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom. Then turn the pan on its side. Keep adding crumbs, turning pan until you have used up all the crumbs. The crumbs should go almost up to the top of the pan. Bake for 8 min. Put in the refrigerator to cool while you are preparing the filling.

To make the filling, first separate your eggs, and set aside.  Cream the cream cheese in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until lightened and as lump free as possible, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar on medium speed and blend.  Add the yolks on low speed, one at a time, just until blended. Scrape down the bowl and beater as necessary. On low speed, add the lemon juice, the vanilla, and the salt. Then on low speed, add the sour cream, just until blended.  Whip egg whites in a separate bowl using electric mixer on highest speed with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Then pour the whipped egg whites into your batter, and fold in by hand. Pour batter into the cooled crust.

Note:  If you have 1 large bowl and 1 smaller bowl for your electric mixer, you can use the large bowl to mix your batter, and the smaller bowl to whip the egg whites.  If you only have 1 bowl for your mixer, whip the egg whites first, then transfer them to another bowl, wipe the bowl dry, and proceed to make the batter.  Your egg whites may deflate a bit though if you do this, but it shouldn’t affect the cake. I do like to whip my egg whites last so they don’t lose any volume.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Turn oven off. Open oven door slightly. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Let cheesecake sit in oven for 1 more hour with the oven door slightly ajar.  Then take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2-3 hours until completely cooled.

Run a knife around the outside of the cake. Then release the outside of the springform pan, and carefully lift the sides of the pan over the cake to remove them. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan and place it on your serving platter. Cover the cake with good plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.

When you are ready to serve it, slice up 1 quart of strawberries and pile them on top of the cake or serve on the side if desired. But this cheesecake is so delicious, that it will stand on its own with no topping!

Note: This cake is creamier and even better if made 24 – 30 hours before you serve it!

Hint:  I enjoy serving this cheesecake with no topping, because only then it is really possible to totally savor the incredible taste and texture of this cake, so that is why I actually recommend that if you want to serve it with strawberries, cut them up and serve them on the side. 

Passover Version

Everthing remains the same, except the crust.

Passover crust

1 1/2 cups matzah meal

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine – melted

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (necessary to cut bland flavor of matzah meal)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Grease bottom and sides of large 10 inch springform pan.  Coat bottom and sides with mixture.  Bake at 300 degrees for 8 minutes.  Set aside to cool while you prepare the filling of the cheesecake.  Follow filling ingredients and instructions as well as baking time instructions above.

Aunt Helene’s Easy, Light and Creamy Cheesecake

You Don’t Have To Be An Expert Baker To Bake Your Own Outstanding Cheesecake!

I adapted this recipe from a recipe for cheesecake that I got from my ex-husband Joe Kahn’s wonderful Aunt Helene. Aunt Helene is a wonderful cook and baker, and I was lucky to have the chance to eat some of her delicious homemade food. This recipe for cheesecake is one of her specialties. I make this recipe for cheesecake often. It calls for less cream cheese than my other recipe and it is a little smaller. You will be surprised when you see how easy it is to make homemade cheesecake. Say goodbye to Sara Lee!

for the filling:

  • 1 pound (2-8 ounce bars) of Philadelphia brand cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 pint (16 ounces) sour cream
  • 6 extra large eggs (cracked and set aside in a bowl)
  • juice of one fresh lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • dash of kosher salt (1/8 teaspoon)

for the crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) melted margarine or butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

to make the crust:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides going 3/4 up from the bottom of the pan of a 9 inch springform pan.

Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the melted margarine or butter. Pat the crumbs into the bottom and 3/4 of the way up the sides of prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Take out and cool.

to make the filling:

In large bowl of Kitchen Aid or other electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat room temperature cream cheese until it is smooth and as lump free as possible. Add the sugar and mix till blended. Then add the sour cream and blend on low speed. Pour in the eggs, the fresh lemon juice, the vanilla, and the dash of salt. Blend on low speed till filling is very smooth.

Pour filling into cooled crust. Place carefully in center of oven. Bake for 1 hour. a cure for genital herpes Turn oven off. Let cheesecake sit in oven for at least 3-6 hours with door closed. Take out. Let sit on counter until it isn’t warm at all. Then take the sides off the pan. Place the cheesecake (which is still on the bottom of the springform pan) onto whatever cake plate you will be serving it on. Wrap the cheesecake well with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Serve the next day.

Serving Suggestion:

Slice 1 – 2 pints of fresh strawberries and pile on top of cake right before you serve it, or serve a bowl of sliced strawberries on the side.

Hint #1: If you like your cheesecake to be really light and fluffy, then separate the eggs first and set the egg whites aside. Add only the yolks to the cream cheese mixture initially. When you are done mixing all of the ingredients for the filling, whip the egg whites separately until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Then fold the egg whites in right before you pour the filling into the crust.

Hint #2: I start baking the cake around 4 or 5 in the afternoon the day before I plan to serve it because of how long the cake stays in the oven after it finishes the actual baking. Helene just keeps the cake in the oven overnight and refrigerates it the next morning. I don’t feel that is necessary, but I’m sure keeping it in the oven overnight won’t hurt it.