I learned a valuable lesson about meal planning over the Thanksgiving holiday. In short, developing a plan for the turkey day dinner alone is not enough…..not by a long shot. When 20+ people are expected, including 5 teen-aged boys, the least of our food planning worries was Thanksgiving dinner, it was the breakfasts, lunches, snack binges and dinners that rounded out the rest of our guest's time-in-residence that was our biggest challenge.
We've been hosting the holiday here for so long that we could plan out the logistics of our turkey day feast in our sleep. Each year the menu is set, attendance is tallied, and dishes are delegated across the family like a well oiled culinary machine. Sadly though my planning never extends beyond Thursday's feast, and in the resulting logistical vacuum, all hell breaks loose. You see, there is nothing my family fears more than the possibility of running out of food when we're all convened. Our mantra is:
You CANNOT have too much food in the house, especially when five of you are teen-aged boys that spend every waking minute doing their best impression of a hoover.
As host I feel this fear most acutely, I mean what kind of a host would I be if we ran out of food 15 minutes after our guests arrived. Apparently my sister ran a close second in our little game of fear factor, clearly concerned that her fellas would descend on our pantry like a pack of locusts and pick it clean within hours of their joining us.
So what did we do without a well crafted plan to guide us?
The two of us caved to our fears and bought stupid amounts of breakfast and snack foods. There were battalion sized containers of hummus and tent sized bags of chips (gotta love BJ's). Dozens of bagels, pounds of cream cheese, corn breads, coffee cakes, flats of eggs, and about 10 pounds of bacon. And that's just the stuff THAT I BOUGHT! As I struggled to find space in our fridge and pantry to store the items, I started to get the sense that I might have gone overboard.
When my sister showed up towing a refrigerated rail car full of food, I knew we were in trouble.
Long story short, we had so much food in the house over the holiday that even the wolf pack couldn't eat their way through it all. Most of the leftovers we packed and shipped off with departing guests, but an unopened 2 pound twin-pack of Philadelphia brand cream cheese remained hidden in the back of the fridge until just a few days ago. As fate would have it, on the very day that I discovered the stow-away cheese, my wife brought home about 4 pints of fabulous looking raspberries that had been on sale at Trader Joe's.
Need I say more?
There is hardly a better use for 2+ pounds of cream cheese than to fashion it into a cheesecake, and you'll be hard pressed to come up with an easier or better cheesecake to make than this one from Ina Garten. Say what you will about this doyenne of the Hamptons, with her incessant need to flit about in dark blue pajamas, the lady knows how to bake. I loved this indulgence for a few reasons. First, making it was an efficient use of our copious amounts of cream cheese and fresh raspberries. Second, unlike many cheesecake recipes this one does not require wrapping the outside of the spring form pan with 800 layers of aluminum foil, and then baking the cake in a water bath, which I always find a bit of a pain. Third, this cake bakes up tall, light (for a cheesecake), and incredibly delicious without a lot of fuss. Finally, the glazed raspberry topping makes for a smashing presentation in the end. You could just dump the berries on and spread them in a spastic fashion, but with about 3 extra minutes of work, you can arrange them end-up in concentric circles for a cake any bakery would be proud to display in their shop window.
So….go put on your jammies and get to work.
Cheers – Steve
Note: I put the spring form pan on a sheet pan before putting it in the oven to catch any leaks. Didn't have any, but you can never be too careful with these things.
For the crust:
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
- 2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 whole extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the topping:
- 1 cup red currant jelly (not jam)
- 1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries
- Heat the oven to 350℉.
- To make the crust, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch spring form pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
- Raise the oven temperature to 450℉.
- To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225℉ and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, until completely cooled. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the cake from the spring form pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the spring form pan for serving.
- To make the topping, melt the jelly in a small pan over low heat. In a bowl, toss the raspberries and the warm jelly gently until well mixed. Arrange the berries on top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.