Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Individual Key Lime Cheesecakes

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A few weeks ago, when it was still summer proper, while strolling around the neighborhood, we ran into a woman who works as a substitute teacher in the school system.  I asked her if she’d had a good summer, and she said something like, “Yes, but I’m looking forward to school starting back because I really love my job, you know, and I just miss being with the kids.”  Then she looked at my husband and said, “I’m sure you know what I mean.”

I studied him as he silently debated whether to give the right answer or the real answer.  I don’t remember what he ultimately said.  Something charmingly equivocal, I suspect.

I don’t want to divest you of your illusions if you still believe that teachers, unlike almost all other professionals, don’t see their work as “work,” that they would rather be in front of their classrooms than be anywhere else on earth, that they teach solely for the love of the kids.   But, well, that’s all nonsense.

He loves his work, but he loves his summers more.  As he says, “Since I have to do something, I’m glad I’m a teacher.” You can go ahead and fill in the unspoken corollary to that statement, if you want to.

Of course, I love being married to a teacher.  I love the fact that he’s almost always home by 4 p.m.  I love the fact that his “work clothes” are a pair of Levis, a button-down shirt, and a tie.  I love the fact that I frequently run into people who say to me, “Are you married to Mr. Gaylord?  He is so _____” (awesome, funny, cute, smart):  It’s a little like the grown-up version of being married to the quarterback.  And I love the fact that when the kids are on breaks, he is, too.

Given all the perks for me, I have a responsibility to manufacture some type of fringe benefit for him. To that end, during the regular schoolyear, I try to serve up Friday dessert treats. This one is a shared favorite, which I prepared at the end of the first full week of school–for the grown-ups only, of course.  Let the kids eat popsicles or something…these would be wasted on them!

(I prefer to make this in ramekins as individual servings, so that I don’t consume absurd quantities in slivers and smidges over the next several days, but to make a full-sized pie, just double the recipe.  And invite over some friends. )

Individual Key Lime Cheesecakes

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3/4 sleeve saltine crackers

1/2 stick butter, softened

1 tablespoons sugar

1/2 can sweetened condensed milk

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Whipped cream

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  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Crush the crackers using your hands or a pastry cutter. Don’t powderize them.  Aim for “crumbles.”  Then, using your hands, incorporate the softened butter and the sugar.  The resulting mixture should hold together when pinched, much like a regular pie dough.
  3. Press the mixture into ramekins and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden but not browned.  (I use two regular sized ramekins and one smallish casserole dish, which serves as my husband’s man-sized portion.  Four regular sized ramekins will also work.)

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       4. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip together the condensed milk, softened cream cheese, and egg yolks. Beat it until it’s completely smooth. Then add the lime juice and mix until well blended.  As this mixture sits for a few minutes, waiting for the crust to be ready, it will stiffen into a beautiful, thick custard.  Then spoon it into your ramekins (the crust doesn’t need to be completely cooled) and smooth it out.

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5. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, preferably in a water bath, just until the filling is barely set.  (To bake individual ramekins in a water bath is a snap.  Just put them inside a larger pan–like maybe a couple of loaf pans or a couple of 8-inch baking dishes–and carefully fill the larger pans with not-quite-boiling water, just to submerge the ramekins about halfway.) The cheesecakes should have some jiggle when you remove them from the oven.  Cool at room temperature and then refrigerate until serving time.

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Top it with whipped cream if you have some.  (I didn’t remember to get any this time, and we missed it!)

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