During my first (OK, only thus far) week at work, a woman in perhaps her early 30s and trailed by two small children–came up to me with the look of “I don’t know what the h**@ I’m doing but I need to do it anyway” panic in her eyes.
Clearly I was paying attention during the ‘active listening’ portion of my high school mediation training.
Step #1: Repeat statements to assure understanding.
“He wants cheesecake.”
I did not know who this ‘he’ was, but for all I knew she was sent on a divine mission from a higher power.
I chose not to question that.
“Well, fabulous! Do you have a recipe or anything you want to use?”
“Have you ever made cheesecake before?”
[No comment. Increasingly panicked expression.]
“OK, no worries. Do you have a food processor?”
She laughed nervously.
I internally sighed at the disgrace of a kitchen without a processor.
“What utensils do you have?”
“I’ve got a whisk.”
“Fabulous. That is all you need.”
In an interesting twist of fate, I had just recently re-read* Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express cookbook. The book has a number of different recipes–categorized by season–that do not list any specific amounts of ingredients, nor very precise directions, but simply guide the cook to throw things together with little stress or concern about exactitude.
*Although perhaps perused is a better verb to use here.
The one I had most excitedly flagged? Blueberry Ricotta Cheesecakes: instant ‘cheesecakes’ using ricotta and cream cheese, made with–you guessed it–a whisk.
I guided the woman towards cream cheese and ricotta, and suggested she incorporate some honey in the mix, spoon it all into a prepared graham cracker crust, and top it with the four pounds of strawberries she already had in her cart.
I don’t know what happened with her cheesecake, but I do know that I had been mulling over the incident for two weeks, wondering if you actually could make cheesecake with only a whisk and a prayer. I couldn’t rest until I knew if I had steered her in the right direction, so out came the ricotta and the cream cheese.
And out came the whisk.
I didn’t have the blueberries that Bittman suggested, but I did have a whole lot of cherries left from the cherry sale last week.So I chopped a bunch of those, along with some strawberries I had also bought on super-sale and that were crying out “Eat me! Eat me!” as though they were in Alice’s view in Wonderland.
Into a small mixing bowl, I scooped out 1 cup of low-fat ricotta cheese and combined it with 4 oz. of 1/3-less-fat cream cheese.*
*Also know as Neufchatel, or at HEB, Queso Neufchatel.Even though I had let the cream cheese soften on the counter for a while, I thought this was going to be difficult. I have some convoluted notion of cream cheese being incredibly thick and solid. [I can hear y'all now: "It's not cheddar, Miss Smartypants!"]It took a little mashing and mushing…and yes, it the cheese mixture did get stuck in the whisk (like a good cookie dough gets stuck in beaters).But a nice healthy tap (or twenty) solved that problem pretty easily.
Once that was all incorporated together, I tossed in my cherries and berries.
I whisked those in, repeating the mush/mash/tap-tap-tap process I described in vague detail above. [Although it was getting much easier to mix at this point.]
It was about this time* I decided to make an inverted or upside-down cheesecake, with the crust on the top.
*Blatant lie. I knew I was going to do this well in advance.
But I didn’t really feel like making an actual graham cracker crust, and I did have a snack pack of graham crackers conveniently crushed through no fault of their own.
So I went all Top Chef on Mr. Bittman and called them “deconstructed.”
I imagine that crushed gingersnaps or shortbread cookies would also be delicious.
Or in a pinch, some Teddy Grahams? [Then you could call them Cherry Bear-y Cheesecakes!]Top each 1/2 cup serving (perfect little ramekin size, really) with a berry…
Then prepare to dazzle your friends (or just yourself) with the surprisingly delicious, almost-instant, one whisk-required, cheesecakes you set before them.
I know from personal experience that it’s hard to stick to just one measly 1/2 cup serving, so it’s a good thing they aren’t all that bad for you. [Calcium! Protein! Vitamin C! No added sugar!]
They will keep well in the fridge (if you can manage to save any), but I would recommend not adding the graham crackers until right before serving.*
*Unless you are like me and kind of like how they get all soft as though you had dipped them in milk or made Chocolate Eclair or Strawberries ‘n Cream Puff Cake.
I may not have been able to help that panicked customer when I saw her back in the baking aisle twenty minutes later, following along with her husband’s sudden craving for chocolate chip cookies while silently cursing herself for getting into this baking mess she was in. But at least I know she–without any experience, baking, or electricity required–could successfully make a cheesecake.
4 oz. 1/3-less fat or regular cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 cup low fat, part skim, or whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup chopped, pitted cherries
1 sheet graham crackers, crumbled
2 strawberries + 2 cherries, halved (for garnish)
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and ricotta.
2. Using a whisk, mush and mash the cheeses together until well incorporated and smooth.
3. Add strawberries and cherries to the cheese mixture. Whisk together.
4. Spoon “cheesecake” equally into four ramekins.
5. Top with crumbled graham crackers and halved strawberries and cherries.