Archive for Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Cheesecake creations can make party a hit

November 6, 2002


— Mention cheesecake, and most people think of the rich, creamy dessert served with coffee at the end of a meal.

However, cheesecake also can be made with herbs, vegetables and salsas and served as an appetizer. In fact, one of this year's "in" hors d'oeuvre is a slice of savory cheesecake served with chips or toasted pita bread.

Some caterers and restaurateurs have been preparing savory cheesecakes for years, but the inclusion of savory cheesecake recipes in the popular Junior League cookbook, "Stop and Smell the Rosemary" from the Junior League of Houston, prompted local cooks to try making these attractive appetizers this year.

Variations of the cookbook's recipes are making the party circuit, and everyone is wowed with these large, attractive and delicious-tasting cheesecakes.

Here are some of the savory cheesecake recipes we've tested for this year's party season. Most are traditional mix-and-bake cheesecakes.

Artichoke Cheesecake

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
3 ounces marinated artichoke hearts
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (1 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped green onions
Roma tomatoes, sliced<
Greek olives, pitted
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with butter.

Place 1 sheet of phyllo in pan so that phyllo extends up and over the sides of the pan. Brush with butter. Repeat with remaining phyllo and butter. Make 2 slits in the center of phyllo for steam to escape.

Bake 9 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Drain and chop artichokes, reserving 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Set aside.

Beat cream cheese, feta, oregano and garlic powder in a large bowl. Add eggs, beating just until blended. Do not overbeat. Add artichoke hearts, reserved marinade and green onions. Combine well.

Pour mixture into crust and cover loosely with foil. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until center is soft and sides stay firm when gently shaken.

Cool. Cover and chill 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to serve, remove from pan and garnish with tomatoes, olives and basil leaves. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 14 servings.

Baked Chili-Cheese Spread

2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon chili powder
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Two 4-ounce cans diced green chilies
1 cup sliced green onions
16-ounce jar salsa (any flavor)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
Tortilla chips, assorted crackers and-or sliced baguette

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heavily grease bottom and side of 9-inch springform pan.

Combine cornmeal and chili powder. Sprinkle over side and bottom of prepared pan.

Beat cream cheese, eggs, garlic powder and cumin in large mixer bowl until smooth; stir in chilies and 1/2 cup green onions. Pour half of batter into pan. Spoon 1 cup salsa on top of batter; sprinkle 1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese over salsa. Spread remaining batter on top of cheese.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until edges are set but center still moves slightly. Cool completely in pan on wire rack; remove side of springform pan.

Spread remaining salsa on top; sprinkle with remaining cheese and green onions. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 24 servings.

Spinach-Herb Cheesecake

2 large tomatoes, sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
15-ounce carton ricotta cheese
8-ounce package feta cheese, crumbled
3 large eggs
4 cups loosely packed shredded fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Sprinkle tomato slices with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drain on paper towels 10 minutes.

Process pine nuts in a food processor until ground. Stir together pine nuts, bread crumbs and melted butter. Press into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; add ricotta cheese, feta cheese and eggs, beating until blended.

Stir in spinach, garlic, flour and dill, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.

Top with tomato slices, and bake 30 more minutes or until set. Turn oven off; leave cheesecake in oven 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Gently run a knife around edge of cheesecake, and carefully remove sides of pan; cool 10 more minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Makes 12 appetizer or 8 main-dish servings.

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