Tuesday, December 12, 2006

colorful holiday cheesecakes

When I shop for sweet potatoes, I always hold a sort of hope that a taste of the islands can be found. You see, on the two trips I have taken to the Big Island, we delighted in sampling some of the local produce: coconut, bananas, papaya, pineapple, guava, longan, and some of the more familiar to us tomatoes, corn, and sweet potatoes. Only one thing, these sweet potatoes were purple. Heavenly, yummy, purple, gorgee-ous little sweet potatoes. Some of the local restaurants served it up as a side dish, to say a seared ahi steak or grilled ono fillet, in the form of light and fluffy lavender mountain, with a red colored salad sprig stuck in the top, representing lava spewing out. I fell in love with this form of mashed potatoes at first tasting, and we later purchased some raw ones at the local farmers' market and tried mashing them up ourselves. Well, our selections in lodging somehow never managed to have the right utensil, namely a masher in a kitchen drawer. We made do with forks and big spoons, and plenty of cream and butter I believe, and they ended up palatable. If only we could find these back home....

Shopping at "The Bowl" one afternoon last summer, I'm cruising the tuber section in produce and see something called an okinawan sweet potato. I look at it a little closer and see that the flesh looks like it has purple streaks in it. Ohhhhh, could it be........one of...........those.........hawaiian ones..........? I make my way toward the register to read a book I brought from home for entertainment while standing in line (or so I wish, about every-other time I'm in the place) and purchase somewhere near ten pounds of them. I get home and google it. I had found them. The very thing. I was so happy. I looked up a few recipes and found something entitled "Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Haupia Frosting " by anonymous locals. One look at the ingredients and you could tell they meant island locals. So, for thanksgiving last year we had this purple cheesecake for dessert.

Looking up the recipe again yielded this site:

Sadly, this year I have not seen the sweet little purple things. I've been back to the source, then another, but without luck. I should probably check chinatown, as I did last year and found them, but you see, most of the crop comes from Hawaii. This doesn't sound too bad right? Think about it a little harder and consider the requirement that the USDA has on irradiating them first, before shipping them the 2,500+ miles (at least) to your door. Purchasing them, should I even find them, is something I just can't do now, for either of those reasons, when there are just so many great locally grown sources of equally delicious tubers. So this year, our family has happily plugged away at eating our papas in the white, yellow and orange color scheme. And as it happens, this week found leftover baked garnet yams, sitting in the fridge, just waiting to be made into something else. Sister A was spending some time with us, so technically it was a holiday and all......so why not, let's do another colorful cheesecake!

Based on making the purple variety twice, adjusting for my own preferences, and of course altering the recipe into one more accommodating to my ingredients, it became something like this. So for a first time, I shall put something into an actual recipe form (of sorts), so here goes:

Garnet Ginger Grenadine Cheesecake (a work in progress)

1 cup chopped pecans (fine)
1 cup mashed graham crackers
1/2 cup buttery stick
2 tbsp chopped candied ginger

combine and pat into that fancy pan you have for such occasions and bake at 350 for ten or so minutes

1 and 3/4 cup mashed garnet yam (1 cup at least, or up to nearly 2 depending on consistency and size of eggs used)
3 jumbo eggs (use large sized if using only 1 cup potato, more like 4 large or 3 jumbo if using nearly 2 cups potato)
1 pound cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

combine these together in a large bowl, preferably in a mixer to save your arms from breaking off. when finished, wrap your pre-baked and now cool pan with tinfoil (if using a springform pan) and pour this mixture in. place the pan into a large roasting pan that will hold it and lots of boiling water around it (should you consider a water bath, which I highly recommend) pour in boiling hot water (around the cheesecake pan please) and bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. it should be hardly done (no more jiggle in the middle). carefully take the roasting pan out of the oven, making sure to not scald your arms off with sloshing HOT water. DO NOT POUR WATER OUT while cheesecake is still in the roasting pan. it will slide to one end and not being horizontal at this high of a temperature will destroy it. siphon off the hot water with a turkey baster or the like and then remove the cheesecake pan from the roasting pan. place on a cooling rack and leave for several hours on the counter until it is totally cool. mix up 1 cup of sour cream with a few tablespoons of grenadine. pour this over the cheesecake and smooth it out. place in the fridge to chill for a few hours before serving. when chilled, place pomegranate seeds on the top, hopefully in a pattern more thought out and interesting than the one above.

Oh how I love leftovers like these. Because when the weather outside is dreary and gray, I feel like wrapping myself up in a blanket and snuggling down with a nice piece of cheesecake. Besides, it's kinda funny to see the colors of Fall on a plate, and be reminded that this weather will pass (after a few more months of rain that is) as this season of colorful cheesecake comes to an end and ushers in a new year.

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