Memorial Day happened to fall the day before Jamie's birthday, so with a long weekend to enjoy, we drove to Colorado Springs, just an hour south of Denver, for a little mini trip. On Saturday, we went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which is America's only mountain zoo. It's smaller than the Denver Zoo, but has a unique layout with the way it climbs up the side of a mountain, giving visitors a bit of a workout while walking through.
A ski-lift-style sky ride took us over the zoo for an aerial view, and we sailed right over the tiger pit. And a giraffe-feeding platform brought us closer to a giraffe than I had ever been.
At the top of the mountain, accessible through the zoo, although only by car and not by foot, is the Will Rogers Shrine, built by Spencer Penrose in the 1930s to honor Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash. A winding staircase leads up through various rooms, containing old photos of Will Rogers, to the top where you have an 8,000 foot-high view of the zoo and Pike's Peak region below.
Below the shrine were stone steps leading to a chapel, where the Penroses and Will Rogers are buried. Spencer Penrose was a lover of animals, and was apparently given a bear as a gift in 1916, which began his collection of exotic animals, which he housed at his ranch. Eventually as his collection grew, he founded the zoo as a safe home for his many animals.
Somehow I think Jamie would not have wanted a bear as a birthday gift!
For his birthday dinner on Tuesday, I wanted everything to be perfect, but it seems I'm a little jinxed in the kitchen when it matters - remember how I messed up the Lemon Raspberry layer cake for my Dad's birthday / Mother's Day?
Before dessert, I had planned what I hoped would be a delicious and elegant birthday dinner of creamy summer squash and carrot soup with basil oil and crostini, roasted tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese, and Ahi tuna steak with zucchini mango salsa and a balsamic orange reduction sauce.
The basil oil was simple to make - I just blended a large handful of basil with 1/4 cup olive oil, then let it steep for a day in the refrigerator before straining it. It tasted fantastic drizzled over the soup, even though the soup itself was disappointing. The flavor was good, but the texture was grainy rather than creamy, so I must not have pureed it very well.
The tuna was tender and flavorful, and Jamie grilled it on his new Himalayan salt block which lended a subtle saltiness to the fish. The zucchini mango salsa was fresh and light.
For dessert, I had spent quite a bit of time dreaming up a trio of cheesecake, ice cream and truffles... Orange Blossom Honey Cheesecake, which I had planned to drizzle with White Chocolate Ganache, and top with Dark Chocolate Truffles, flavored with Grand Marnier and dipped in white chocolate.
And lastly, Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream, with, of course, a shot of Grand Marnier on the side.
As sometimes happens to my grand plans, I ran into trouble. A LOT of trouble. First, I baked the cheesecake, which emerged from the oven looking absolutely perfect, but when I removed the foil, I saw to my dismay that water from the water bath had leaked through the foil, turning the bottom half of my cheesecake and crust into mush. I almost cried. And then I baked a new cheesecake all over again.
When I was ready to make the white chocolate ganache, which I've never made before, I thought it would work similar to dark chocolate ganache, which I've made many times. So I heated the cream, poured it over the white chocolate, stirred in a little liqueur, and waited.
And waited some more.
After way too much waiting, I still had a bowl of very runny, white chocolate sauce, not ganache. I thought that maybe if I poured a thin layer over the cheesecake and refrigerated it, it might start to firm up. But that never happened, and so I ended up scraping it off the cake (you might detect a few little drips in the pictures below), and made dark chocolate ganache instead.
If there's a secret to white chocolate ganache, I'm determined to figure it out. Not today, though.
The dark chocolate almost made me cry a second time when I microwaved it, only for a few seconds, to help speed up the melting process, and it "broke", which is what happens when the fat separates from the solids and it takes on a gloppy, greasy look. But trying not to panic, I heated a tiny bit more cream, and slowly drizzled that in while stirring. To my amazement, that fixed the ganache perfectly and it came right back together into a smooth and creamy mixture which I immediately spread over the cake before anything else could go wrong!
Topped with the truffles, it really was a delicious cheesecake, as I think orange and chocolate tastes wonderful together.
Jamie looked at the six candles in six truffles and asked me, "Am I turning 6? I thought I was 38!"
Try fitting 38 truffles onto a 7-inch cheesecake, though!
In spite of all the hiccups, or maybe because of them, it was a fun and memorable day.
Grand Marnier White and Dark Chocolate Truffles
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), finely chopped
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur
- 3-4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
- sprinkles or colored sugar
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, just until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes. Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the Grand Marnier.
Refrigerate the ganache for about 2 hours, until it's firm enough to roll into balls. Scoop about 2 teaspoons of chocolate and roll between your hands into a ball; place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chocolate. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Melt the white chocolate according to the instructions on the package. Dip the dark chocolate balls into the melted white chocolate (a toothpick or cake pop stick might make it easier). Place on a baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle each truffle with sprinkles or colored sugar.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving, and refrigerate any leftovers.
Yields about 10-12 truffles.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen
Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- zest of 2 oranges
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup orange blossom honey
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup orange juice (juice from 2 oranges)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur (optional)
In a large saucepan, combine the milk, orange zest, sugar and honey. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Strain mixture to remove the zest, then freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker. Transfer to a container and freeze until firm, 4-6 hours.
Yields about 1 1/2 quarts.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen
Orange Blossom Honey Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache
- 3/4 cup crushed honey graham crackers (about 1 "sleeve")
- 1/2 cup almond meal flour (or raw almonds, toasted and very finely crushed)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound (two 8-ounce boxes) low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/3 cup orange blossom honey
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons orange extract
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur
- This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9 or 10-inch spring form pan for a larger/standard-sized cheesecake. Baking time may need to be increased a little.
- If using almonds instead of almond flour, toast the almonds first by spreading on a baking sheet and baking at 350 for 8-10 minutes until they are very fragrant. Crush in a food processor.
Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap a small spring form pan (7 inches in diameter, with 2 1/2 inch-high sides) with 2 layers of heavy foil (the foil will prevent the water from the water bath from leaking into the cake). Spray the inside bottom and sides of the pan with non-stick spray.
Prepare the Crust:
In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, almond flour, sugar and salt. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork to moisten. Press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.
Freeze crust in the pan for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300.
Prepare the Filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the honey, sugar, vanilla, orange extract and zest, and beat for 5 minutes until light and smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and heavy cream. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat for several more minutes for a very light and airy batter.
Pour the batter over the crust and smooth out the surface. The pan should be full almost to the top.
Place the spring form pan into a baking dish or roasting pan. Pour boiling or very hot water into the baking dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake for 1 hour, to 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the top is a pale golden brown, a crust has formed on top, and the cake has risen slightly; the cake will still seem jiggly if you shake it, though. Turn off the oven, and let the cheesecake sit in the warm oven for 1 more hour. Transfer to a wire rack on the counter and cool for 1 hour. Place in the refrigerator and cool for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Make the Ganache:
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, just until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes. Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the Grand Marnier. Let ganache sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, until thickened slightly to the right consistency for spreading/pouring on top of the cheesecake.
While the ganache is thickening, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges of the cake to loosen the crust from the pan. Remove the sides of the pan. Serve the cake on its metal base, or if you're careful, you can slide a large spatula under the crust to transfer it from the base to a serving plate or cake pedestal.
Pour the ganache over the cake, letting it run down the sides if you like. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the ganache before slicing.
Yields 6-8 servings.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen