Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blueberries and cheesecake...

Since Jeff was working from home today, we had to push back the weekly treat day we do at his office until tomorrow. This week I chose a treat that looked a little different that what we have been doing lately and would be full of flavor. How does this Coconut-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars with a Browned Butter Graham Crust sound?

The name is probably a bit much, but I didn't want to overlook the decadent crust for these bars. You could always simply heat the butter until it melts, but taking the extra few minutes to let the milk solids darken and the liquid go from very light creamy color to a rich golden brown culls out a sensational nutty essence. For texture and depth, that liquid gold is poured into a mixture of crushed graham crackers (we used cinnamon), flour, sweet flakes of coconut, ground pecans and just a little granulated sugar for crispness.

For extra insurance against a soggy crust, it is pre-baked to firm up for a few minutes. While it is in the oven, the filling is a basic mixture of smooth cream cheese, granulated sugar, eggs, a small shot of brandy and a sprinkling of vanilla. You'll want to beat the cream cheese and sugar well so it is nice and smooth, but once you start adding the eggs, try to keep the mixing down to a minimum. The creamy filling is poured onto the hot graham crust and the top is deluged with plump orbs of juicy blueberries. Once baked, you'll want to let these bars cool to room temperature and slip them into the refrigerator to chill down and firm up before trying to cut them into squares. This allows the flavors to meld and you will achieve cleaner cuts. The fresh blueberries are of course the star as they burst with sweetness, but the involved crust is not far behind with its complex nutty flavor. I thought about adding a bit of lemon zest, since I love the blueberry and lemon combo, but with that strong crust, I don't think the creamy filling needed it at all. Now we'll just have to see if Jeff takes them in the morning or "accidentally" leaves them behind so he can eat a few more pieces!

Anticipating the "quality control" of the bars, I wanted to keep dinner on the lighter side and prepared this Greek Lamb and Quinoa Pilaf. The original recipe did call for using a long grain white rice, but we thought we could put our own spin on it with quinoa. Well, to be honest, that's my speak for saying I misjudged the amount and realized a little too late that we didn't have quite enough rice already on hand... oops!

Chopped onions, carrots, minced fresh garlic and lean ground lamb are cooked off in a bit of oil to crumble the meat and soften the veggies. For that "hmm, what is that spice I can't pick out but love what it adds" line of thought, we added a sprinkling of our favorite Vietnamese cinnamon when we tossed the cup of well-rinsed quinoa into the pot. I used vegetable broth for the cooking liquid as I already had some in the ice box, but you could also use a mild chicken broth as well. The time varies a little, but it should take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook the quinoa - you are looking for most of the liquid to be absorbed and the seeds to explode, releasing the germ that resembles tiny curls.

Chopped tomatoes (salmonella free, thank you!), parsley, fresh mint and a few tablespoons of bright lemon juice are stirred into the cooked quinoa mixture and left to mingle, off-heat, to let those flavors permeate the dish. While I'm sure it would have been good with rice, we enjoyed the texture of the quinoa in this dish, but we did note it was kind of hard to see the meat once it was plated. I think the only thing we would do differently would be to add a little more of the fresh herbs into the mix and maybe a few scallions to bump up the flavor. I should say that it is rare that we cook with lamb and we've only used it ground... however, we are determined to branch out soon and try other cuts as we find we like the cleaner flavor of the meat. If lamb is not your thing, you could always substitute ground sirloin, if so desired.


  1. Those cheesecake bars look INCREDIBLE. Cheesecake is one of those things I've always found kind of intimidating, but maybe in bar-form it's not so scary...

  2. Blueberry cheesecake, lamb and quinoa ....I feel like this post was made just for me, I love all of these foods. :-D They look fantastic!

  3. We haven't made quinoa in ages, so we might just have to give this a go.

    Send some cheesecakes over here, would you? Jeff has some lucky coworkers.

  4. Mmmmm....I love quinoa! I think I will try that recipe with seitan in place of the lamb to make it vegan. Can't wait!

    Your photos always look so delicious and make me hungry :o)


  5. Awww those look adorable AND sound delicious!

  6. The crust on these cheesecake bars is really different -- your concoction I presume? I need to buy some graham crackers to make these. Will let you know how they turn out.

  7. Joe, both looks so appealing. I'm drooling over the cheesecake bars.

  8. RW - These bars are a piece of cake... dive in and give 'em a try!

    Jeena - Thanks.

    Jen - I would have gladly sent you a few if you were a bit closer!

    Courtney - I haven't gotten the nerve to try seitan yet! Hopefully that will change soon.

    Hillary - Thank you!

    Judy - Please let us know what you think!

    Helene - Thanks!