Friday, February 10, 2012

Food Friday: Cream Cheese

When I started cooking for myself, moving out into the real world, one of my first culinary rules was this: never use fat-free cream cheese. It's just not very good, and the point of cream cheese is, after all, that it is good. I mean good. No, really, it is good.

My mother used to say of my father that he could be happy with just a sugar bowl put in front of him, and I must have gotten those genes, because I have always loved sugar and sweets. Among my favorite sweets have always been those that one way or another involve cream cheese. Pumpkin rolls? Check. Pumpkin cookies? As long as they have cream cheese frosting? Red Velvet Cake? See previous note. And one of my favorites to make--indeed, the one that caused the above rule--was Pumpkin Cake. Easy to make thanks to all the packaged, processed ingredients, and so very good. When I want to impress and calories are no object, this is my weapon of choice (recipe below).

However, I've been eating healthier lately, following the so-called Slow Carb Diet, which basically means that every meal for six days of the week is comprised of a meat, a legume, and a vegetable. And on the seventh day, I eat whatever I want.

With that in mind, a whole cake is probably a bit much, even for me. So then, how do I get my cream cheese fix? Well, I've been experimenting.

Let me first say that I make an awesome pot of oatmeal. I mean absolutely awe-inspiring. My lucky little girl gets to eat it every morning for breakfast, but for me, it's a once-a-week treat, and that's assuming we don't go in for pancakes instead. But here's how I super-charge it: in addition to the standard incorporation of maple syrup, I like to spoon in some cream cheese and some cinnamon, turning my oatmeal into a high-fiber (and, yes, high-sugar and high-fat), smoothy iced cinnamon roll. Well, anyway, the oatmeal equivalent, and a lot less work, all in all. Love it, love it, love it.

On a similarly decadent day, I thought I would try adding cream cheese to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have long been a fan of putting both cream cheese and jelly on bagels, so this seemed like a logical enough extension. Verdict: meh. Doesn't really add much, not worth the hassle.

One of the dishes my wife likes to make for parties are Artichoke Tarts, a recipe that she found while doing Weight Watchers, of all things. Who know cream cheese fit into WW? Well, it doesn't, at least not the fully-fatted stuff, but the recipe is yummy (what the heck, I'll include that below too).

For the Super Bowl, we put together a chip dip that was simplicity itself: spread cream cheese on a dish, sprinkle some taco seasoning (optional), layer on salsa, layer on cheese, and bake until its beauty brings tears to your eyes. That reminds me of a cold chip dip I used to make: you mix a can of refried beans with cream cheese and a can of diced green chiles. Layer a jar of taco sauce over that, then cheese, and finally diced tomatoes and green onions. Very tasty, but not nearly as quick and easy as the first one. Still, no oven required, so that's something.

Although I didn't get to eat it myself, because yesterday was not one of the food-gone-wild days, I found another good use for cream cheese yesterday: in mashed sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes + butter + cream cheese = A + M + AZING.Well, anyway, very good. Maybe my math skills aren't what they used to be. But my cream cheese skills have never been better.

Pumpkin Cake
I'm sure I got this e-mail from my mom, who got it from somewhere. Someone in the family? A cookbook? Beats me.
         1 cup pumpkin
         1 can evaporated milk
         4 eggs
         1/4 tsp nutmeg
         1 1/2 cups sugar
         2 tsp cinnamon
         1/4 tsp ginger
In mixer or right in a 9x13 pan. The mixer does make things easier. Sprinkle evenly over this
 1 pkg yellow cake mix
And drizzle with 
 1 cup butter
Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.
When cool, top with cream cheese frosting. For that, mix together
 8 oz cream cheese
 1 lb powdered sugar
 some milk
Until creamy. Spread over the cake.
The Artichoke Tarts recipe is here. I will just add that we tend to use more chopped red pepper (so as not to waste a bunch) and don't use the parsley at all.

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