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Chef's Hat: The wonder of cream cheese

A rich twist on classic foods.

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Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

Cream cheese is often thought of as that spread you put on bagels or as the magic ingredient in cheesecake. But is it really cheese?

Cream cheese is actually a variety of cheese. According to the US Food & Drug Administration, for a food to be considered a cheese it must have at least 33 percent moisture and no more than 55 percent and cream cheese falls within those ranges. To make cream cheese, you start with a combination of cow's milk and cream, add a bit of bacteria so the milk and cream turn into curds and whey and then drain off the whey. The remaining bit is processed into a magical block of cream cheese. Unlike many cheeses, cream cheese is meant to eat when it is fresh and not aged.

Cream cheese has been around for over one hundred years. It became popular in the late 1800s in the town of Philadelphia – hence the popular brand name of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Now it is not only a popular in the United States, but is consumed around the world in a variety dishes and culinary creations.

This cheese is very versatile and much more than just a breakfast spread. It can add richness and creaminess for recipes from banana bread to macaroni and cheese to baked chicken. The slight bit of sweetness in this cheese and its velvety texture make it an ideal additive for frostings, fillings and dips.

My first experiment with cream cheese was making a banana bread with a cream cheese filling. Several times when making a baked goods recipe with a middle layer I ended up swirling all the layers together without a distinct middle layer This time I tried a new technique – just spooning the cream cheese layer over the first bread layer and letting it go without smoothing it out. Not a perfect solution, but it did end up with distinct layers.

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If you’re not in the mood for sweets, cream cheese makes a perfect filing for thick pork chops or chicken. This recipe makes a bacon cream cheese stuffing for chicken but you could leave out the bacon and stuff thick pork chops with this filling and still end up with a great evening dish.

So break out of that boring habit of just spreading cream cheese on your breakfast bagel. This flavorful cheese will transform your dull recipes into enchanted meals Remember, it is much more than just a breakfast spread. Happy eating!

Bacon and Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken

stuffed-chicken-breast.jpg
Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ cup all purpose flour

Cream Cheese Layer

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet with non stick cooking spray.

Slice each chicken breast in half. Cut from the thinnest point towards the other side, but do not slice all the way through.

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Place the eggs in a medium sized bowl and whisk the eggs.

In a second bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder.

Spread the flour on a large plate or in a wide bowl.

In a third bowl, prepare the cream cheese mixture, by combing the cream cheese, salt, garlic powder, crumbled bacon and shredded mozzarella

Divide the cream cheese mixture among the four chicken breasts, spreading out to cover, and fold the chicken breast closed. Roll each breast in flour, then dip each stuffed breast carefully in the egg mixture then roll in the bread-crumb mixture pressing down to make sure the both sides of the breasts are evenly coated with the mixture.

Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet and bake 35 to 45 minutes. Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from oven and let set 5 minutes before serving.

Banana Bread with Cream Cheese Filling

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This cream cheese banana bread adds a whole new, rich layer to a classic favorite.
Donna Evans / Echo Journal

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  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (liquid form, melt if using solid coconut oil) or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large bananas)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the Filling

  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

For the bread

In a large bowl, add the egg, sugars, coconut oil, sour cream, vanilla, and whisk to combine. Add the bananas and stir until well combined.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Mix until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the egg/banana mixture. Stir just until combined, but do not over mi. Set aside.

Make the Cream Cheese Filling - In a large bowl, add all filling ingredients and stir to combine or use a hand mixer and mix until well combined.

Pour about two-thirds of the batter out into the prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula.

Pour the filling mixture over the bread or place spoonfuls of the filling mixture over the bread layer. Slightly smooth so the filling layer is covering he bread layer. Top with the remaining batter and smooth with a spatula being careful not to disturb the cream cheese layer.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is firm. Test by inserting a toothpick or fork into the middle. The toothpick should come out clean. Allow bread to cool in pan for about 15 minutes. Turn into a wire rack or plate – and slice to serve.

Related Topics: CHEF'S HATFOODRECIPES
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