Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Weekend Project


Despite the fact there is an extremely large expat community here and our social life is steadily improving, there are some weekends in which we feel lethargic, and are quite frankly, downright bored. These are the times when my children need to be coaxed out of their doldrums, so I sometimes come up with projects to break the monotony and engage them in something enticing. Most often, our activities revolve around the kitchen.

Last weekend we decided to make cheesecake. Often the cheesecakes we get in bakeries here are excessively sweet and eggy, or are of the no-bake variety. Neither of these appeals to us, nor do they hold a candle to the ones we used to purchase back home, namely the exquisitely sublime ones from my favorite bakery, The Prolific Oven.

Philadelphia cream cheese In one of my earlier posts I had lamented on the unavailability of Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Admitting there are many other brands available, for a good cheesecake I believe only Philadelphia will suffice. On a recent visit to the grocery store I saw row upon row of them in the cheese section. Cheese is a fundamental part of the Arab diet; therefore the cheese sections are amazingly well stocked. I will write more about this in a later post, since cheese is an integral part of my diet as well. Upon spotting them I decided to purchase a few packages before they became extinct again. At 11 riyals for an 8 oz. package they did not come cheap, thus hastening my desire to use them without much delay, before they had passed their prime.

I also bought a crate of eggs, since after cheese they are the second most important ingredient. Prior to the Philadelphia scarcity, we went through a long period of an egg shortage. Due to the recent bird flu scare, the import of eggs had ceased from a few countries (Qatar imports most consumer items). This brought an increase in the price of eggs, if one was fortunate enough to find them. The price of baked goods also increased. We basically lived without eggs for almost a month. This deficiency ended a few months ago, yet the prices remain unchanged. We now actually have an abundance of eggs, so much so that I no longer can find packs of six that I once bought, only crates of 30 are available. Sometimes the eggs come with chicken poop still clinging to them, thus forcing me wash each and every one prior to storage. Just an interesting bit of information for you all who live in quality controlled sterilized environments!

Back to the cake making. Both N and A like to help in the kitchen. They crushed the cookies for the crust. They break the eggs (clean ones of course), measure the sugar and other ingredients, and gleefully assist in mixing all ingredients together. H, who does not have much interest in the kitchen activities, is blissfully content he will have something delectable to eat after all this madness. He is however, my ally in the massive clean up operation afterwards.

digestive biscuitsWhen using a western recipe here, namely American ones, one often needs to be creative and find suitable alternates. Since graham crackers are not readily available, I substituted them with the classic British biscuits called digestives, which are similar in taste and texture. Eggs come in one size only, which are medium – ish. I therefore used 4 instead of the 3 large ones called by the recipe. Due to the addition of alcohol, availability of most liquid forms of vanilla is scarce; hence I used the more commonly available vanilla sugar. Also, I have a gas oven with the temperature dial in Centigrade (something very foreign to me), so I keep a conversion chart to Fahrenheit nearby. After burning a few things I also found out that gas ovens have a temperament of their own and get hot at a much faster speed. On my upcoming visit back home an oven thermometer is high on the shopping list.

The following is a recipe for the cheesecake my children and I made together. I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as we did.

Boredom Beating Cheesecake

1-3/4 cups crushed digestive biscuits (or graham crackers)
1/4 cup melted butter
1-1/4 cups sugar
3 packages (8 oz. each) Philadelphia brand cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. vanilla sugar (or extract)
4 medium or 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 173° C (or350° F). Mix biscuit crumbs, butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Press firmly onto bottom and 2 inches up side of a 9 inch springform pan.

Beat cream cheese and the remaining 1 cup sugar in large bowl until well blended. Add sour cream, vanilla and lemon zest; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, just until blended. Pour this into prepared crust.

Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 min. or until center is almost set. Turn oven off. Open oven door slightly. Let cheesecake set in oven 1 hour. Remove cheesecake from oven; cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Loosen cheesecake from rim of pan and remove rim. Store any leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

Recipe courtesy of Kraft Foods.com, with a few of my own substitutions

No comments: