National Award Winning Chef

I like to think of myself as a pretty good cook. I make a lot of different things. I’ve learned some technique. I have received lots of compliments on my food. With all of that, I may not even be the best cook on my street.

A number of houses down, lives Bill and Mary. The Ranting Wife and I first became friends with them as our oldest kids became friends in elementary school. First they were friends at school, then they hung out after school and on weekends. Eventually they were in Cub Scouts together. The two couples spent time enjoying each other’s company and eventually, Bill and I became leaders of the boy’s Cub Scout den.

We each had our own role as co-leaders. I was the organizer. I was the facilitator. Bill was both the creative one and the enforcer. Enforcer? Yeah. You get seven third grade boys hyped up on cookies and kool-aid, they often lose the ability to stay in control. Bill, who is a big guy and the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a bar fight, would announce in a booming voice “ENOUGH” and control would be restored. Early on I knew quite a bit about Bill, including that he was a firefighter in a local community and grew up in the city, but one fact took a while to come out: he can cook. Not only could he cook and that he liked to cook (much to the relief of others at the firehouse), but he was a nationally award-winning cook.

In 2002, McIlhenny Company announced the second Tabasco Cook and Ladder competition. This competition featured recipes submitted from firefighters around the country that featured a Tabasco brand product. Bill crafted a recipe, submitted it and eventually was selected as a finalist. As a finalist, he was flown to New York City and created his dish on television and won second prize.

Bill and Mary are part of the Gourmet Club and more often than not, Bill and I can be found discussing cooking whenever we get together. I made his award-winning recipe, brought it to a Fourth of July party he was hosting and it was instantaneously devoured by all those in attendance.

Spicy Spreadable Cheesecake

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While this recipe is titled cheesecake, don’t think dessert….think appetizer.

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This is a rather involved dish, but it is worth it.

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Use the Ritz crackers to make the crust in a springform pan.

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Getting the ingredients ready.

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The cheesecake filling in the mixer.

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In the pan, ready for the oven.

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While it is cooking and cooling, make the topping.

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It is out of the oven and not cracking. Letting it cool down slowly is the key.

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Apply the topping.

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I found these in the grocery store. The jalapeños are pickled in a sweet syrup that gives these guys both sweet and hot. They were perfect for this use.

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Here is a side view. The fresh toppings and cool cheesecake are perfect together. Consider it like a dip, but as it is a bit thicker, I find a knife or spoon can be best to help break it apart for the tortilla chip.

Spicy Spreadable Cheesecake

Servings: Makes 8 servings.


2 cups crushed Ritz® crackers
4 tablespoons butter, melted
6 ounces finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped onion
Chopped jalepenos
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
3 teaspoons Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped green onions
Salsa (optional)
(I added sweet hot jalapeño slices too)
Crackers or tortilla chips


To make crust, combine crackers and melted butter in a bowl and mix well. Press evenly into a 9-inch springform pan.
To make filling, combine Cheddar cheese, lime zest, flour, and cornstarch in a bowl and toss well; set aside.
Combine cream cheese and lime juice in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time while mixing on low speed. Add minced onion, horseradish, TABASCO® Sauce, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mix just until blended.
Fold in Cheddar cheese mixture, then fold in sour cream by hand. Pour batter into prepared crust. Bake at 325°F for 1 hour. Do not overbake.
Meanwhile, combine all topping ingredients in a bowl and mix well; keep refrigerated while cheesecake bakes. When cake is done, remove from oven and spread cold topping over warm cake. Return cake to oven, turn oven off, and allow cheesecake to cool in oven (oven door may be opened a crack to speed up the process); this helps prevent cake from cracking during cooling.
Refrigerate cheesecake at least 4 hours or overnight, then garnish as desired with shredded Cheddar, tomatoes, green onions, and, if desired, salsa. Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.

2nd Place: 2002 TABASCO® Cook & Ladder® Competition. Submitted by Firefighter Bill Hubbard Bedford Heights, OH Fire Department


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Categories: appetizer, Cajun, Cheese3, kosher, Low Carb, Mexican, Picnic, Recipes, snack, Vegetable4, Vegetarian

Author:The Ranting Chef

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One Comment on “National Award Winning Chef”

  1. August 4, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Your neighborhood sounds like so much fun! Thank you for sharing this fabulous recipe.


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