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Herbs, vegetables transform cheesecakes from desserts to appetizers |

Herbs, vegetables transform cheesecakes from desserts to appetizers

Tommy C. Simmons
| Sunday, November 10, 2002 12:00 a.m

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 “Stop and Smell the Rosemary” from the Junior League of Houston, Texas, has prompted cooks nationwide to make these attractive appetizers for the holiday season.

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

The cheesecakes are large, serving at least 14 guests.

Cheesecake is not really basic cooking because you need a special baking pan, a springform pan, to form the cream cheese-based batter. You can find springform pans at kitchen shops, some supermarkets, and discount and department stores. A 9-inch pan is standard.

The ingredients list can be long, but the technique of combining them is straightforward. Just follow the steps. Some cooks warn not to overbeat the cream cheese and eggs when blending them, but I’ve never found that a problem.

Pay critical attention to the oven’s baking temperature. Cheesecakes generally bake at 300 degrees to 350 degrees, slow and long. If the oven temperature is too hot, the cheesecake can puff and crack open on the top. If that happens, you’ll have to camouflage the cracks with some sort of a topping.

Use large eggs for all of these recipes.

Baked Chili-Cheese Spread

This recipe is from Ortega.

  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles
  • 1 cup green onions, sliced, divided
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar salsa (any flavor), divided
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • Tortilla chips, assorted crackers or sliced baguettes; or a combination

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

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

In a large mixer bowl, beat the cream cheese, eggs, garlic powder and cumin until smooth; stir in the chiles and 1/2 cup green onions.

Pour half of the batter into the pan. Spoon 1 cup salsa on top of the batter and sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese. Spread the remaining batter on top of the cheese.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the edges are set but the center still moves slightly. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the side of the springform pan. (Refrigerate if not serving immediately.)

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

Makes 24 servings.

Artichoke Cheesecake

This recipe is from “Stop and Smell the Rosemary” published by the Junior League of Houston.

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

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a bit of the melted butter.

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

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

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

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

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

Cool. Cover and chill for 2 hours or as much as 24 hours.

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

Makes 14 servings.

Spinach-Herb Cheesecake

This recipe is from “Bounty of Biltmore Cookbook.”

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

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

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, grind the pine nuts with on/off pulses (be careful not to make them into a paste). Stir together the pine nuts, bread crumbs and melted butter. Press onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Turn the oven to 325 degrees.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until creamy; add the ricotta cheese, feta cheese and eggs, beating until blended.

Stir in the spinach, garlic, flour and dill, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Turn into the prepared crust. Bake for 15 minutes.

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

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

Makes 12 appetizer or 8 main-dish servings.

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