Vegan Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Berry-Chia Compote

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Finally took the new Vitamix out for a test run by pureeing cashews into the creamiest cheese-cakey filling ever.

It so beats “regular” cheesecake. Which does seem very regular in comparison to this scrumptious concoction.

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Check out that crust, first of all. It is just ground walnuts and medjool dates, with a sprinkle of dried unsweetened coconut. Less is more.

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Complete with a raspberry/blueberry compote, which couldn’t be easier to throw together.

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Yeah, you won’t regret making this.

Vegan Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Berry-Chia Compote

Adapted from The Vegetarian Times magazine, July 2008

2 cups raw walnuts
1 ½ cups raw cashews
½ cup pitted Medjool dates (I used 5-6 large dates)
¼ cup dried, unsweetened coconut
6 Tbs. coconut oil, melted (gently warmed)
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup agave nectar
The scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
Compote
3 cups mixed berries, such as blueberries and raspberries (I used frozen)
1/3 cup (probably unnecessary) raw sugar
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon chia seeds
Soak walnuts and dates in one bowl of water, and cashews in another bowl, for 3-4 hours. Drain.
Pulse walnuts and dates in a food processor until crumbly and pressable. Sprinkle dried coconut in the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan or springform pan. Scatter the walnut/date mixture in the pan, right on top of the sprinkled coconut, and press to cover.
Place drained cashews, warmed coconut oil, lemon juice, vanilla beans, and agave nectar in the Vitamix. Process until smooth and delicious. Pour the mixture into the crust, and freeze 1-2 hours/until firm.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the berries, sugar, and lemon juice + zest until bubbling, then lower the heat and simmer. Add and mix in the cornstarch and chia. Once most of the liquid has evaporated and it reaches a jelly consistency, remove from heat. Allow to cool.
When ready to serve, allow to thaw a bit and then top either the whole cheesecake with compote, or each individual slice. Alternatively, you can serve this with fresh berries.

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This was absolutely the bomb. So delicious. Vanilla beans running throughout and the lemon juice do well to lighten an otherwise decadent dessert. The tart berry compote–with chia seeds, full of fiber and other goodness–contrasts the subtle sweetness of the cake perfectly. One slice is so satisfying and chock-full of healthy fats. Do not fear the fat.

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I will definitely make this again. Even my die-hard cheesecake-loving brother ate it without question. I’m not sure if he even suspected it was anything less than the cheesecake he knows and loves.

Vegan or not, you will be the most popular person at whatever party you bring this to… or, the most popular person in your house if you just make it for fun!

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Puffed Millet Fruit & Nut Granola

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Somehow, four bags of puffed millet ended up in our house.

They just kind of magically appeared in the cart at Fairway Market. “These will be great for making healthier rice crispy treats!” I explained. In response: my parents’ dubious stares. But I managed to get not one, not two, but four bags of puffed millet.

I used up one bag by sprinkling some on top of oatmeal or yogurt every morning. This took a long time. Three bags to go.

Unfortunately, puffed millet does not make a good sub for puffed rice. Puffed millet gets soggy very quickly, resulting not in crispy treats but in chewy treats. Still tasty, just not really what I was hoping for.

Two and a half bags to go.

However, for granola… puffed millet is absolutely delectable. The millet puffs toast up in the oven, resulting in a very light and crunchy mixture, perfect over yogurt or just by itself. A few nuts and dried fruits sprinkled throughout add a variety of textures and flavors. And the only sweetener? A 1/4 cup of maple syrup for the whole recipe. The end result is more of a trail-mix sort of granola–but those oft-desired granola clusters are not missed in the slightest. 

I have since made this recipe a few more times and my alterations are noted by the strikeouts below; I like it with the non-struck-out ratios. 

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Puffed Millet Fruit & Nut Granola

Adapted from Lesser Evil

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 1 teaspoon almond extract

sprinkle of sea salt

3 2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked or shredded

2 3 cups puffed millet

1 1.5 cup nuts of your choice – I used almonds, walnuts, and pecans

a few handfuls of raisins and craisins

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a glass measuring cup, first add the coconut oil to 1/4 cup, then maple syrup to reach 1/2 cup; pour in a large bowl (this helps get all the maple syrup out of the measuring cup easily). In a large bowl, whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup and spices together. Add the nuts and coat with the wet mixture, then add the oats and millet. Coat evenly. Spread onto a large, rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, stir/toss/mix granola, and bake 10-15 more minutes or until golden brown; the nuts do tend to toast quickly so keep an eye on it during these last 10-15 minutes. Add the dried fruit and toss together; allow to cool completely (will take about an hour). Store in an airtight container.

Granola serving ideas: Topping for oatmeal, yogurt, frozen yogurt, banana softserve, or just simply eaten as cereal. I made a parfait, which was, in fact, parfait.

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The addition of coconut makes this granola a bit higher in fat and calories, but coconut’s saturated fat is actually composed of medium chain fatty acids, not long chain. The body metabolizes coconut’s MCFAs a bit differently than the LCFAs found in meat or dairy. MCFAs go directly to the liver and are burned off, while LCFAs, being longer and more insoluble, must be broken down by bile and are eventually transported to and stored in adipose tissue. Some studies show that coconut oil also helps with satiety. So, I would not worry too much about it. Just, as always, practice moderation. Besides, one should eat a larger breakfast and smaller dinner… which is probably the opposite of what you’ve done your whole life, but better for a more restful sleep and happier metabolism.

While the granola bakes, enjoy the wonderful aromas that come from the toasting of the nuts and coconut flakes as they Maillard from just “good” to delectable. Adding the fruit at the end maintains their chewy softness, which is a delicious contrast to the crunch. The millet, so light yet packed with protein and B12, adds yet another dimension of texture and flavor. Paired with finely chopped strawberries and pineapple layered with Greek yogurt, this granola made a perfect post-run breakfast.

Two bags of puffed millet to go now. But they won’t be there for long. Granola they shall become!

Risotto-Style Farro with Cauliflower and Runny Egg

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Oh, anticipation…

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Farro is a grain similar to barley, but a larger and chewier–I like it better than most other “grains” like bulghur, barley, rice, and quinoa due to its more substantial texture. This was my first experiment in cooking farro, a bag of which I got as a gift from my friend Athena, fellow food connoisseur and cook. I prepared it similar to risotto in that broth was added bit by bit until it was fully absorbed.

This dish is, according to the original author, inspired by a Moroccan porridge called herbel, which is sweet as it uses cinnamon and milk.

The dish below is definitely savory and a perfect light lunch.

Risotto-Style Farro with Cauliflower and Runny Egg
Serves four

Adapted from Food and Wine

5 tablespoons unsalted butter or Earth Balance

4 scallions, sliced (a kitchen scissor is a great tool for this)

8 ounces uncooked farro

Salt and pepper to taste

1 quart vegetable stock

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups 1-inch cauliflower florets

1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar (I did not have sherry)

4-8 large eggs (one or two per person, your choice)

1 tablespon white vinegar

In a large nonstick saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the sliced scallions and cook on medium heat until softened (2 minutes). Add the farro, season with salt and pepper (omit salt if using high-sodium broth) and cook the farro in the butter/scallion mixture for 1 minute (to toast it). Add the broth, half-cup by half-cup, slowly, allowing the farro to absorb it all before adding the next aliquot of broth; stir frequently but not constantly. This will take about 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and then add cauliflower; season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat until tender and browned in spots (about 5 minutes). Add the cauliflower to the farro mixture and toss, as well as the vinegar and the remaining butter. Divvy into four bowls.

Poach the eggs: Crack the eggs into small bowls. Bring a shallow pan of water to a rolling boil. Add white vinegar to the water; vinegar keeps the egg whites from spreading too much. Add each egg into the pan carefully and cook for three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place directly on top of the farro in each bowl. Garnish with fresh scallions.

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This was pretty easy to make and very satisfying. I used the 10-minute farro, which may have changed the texture of the resulting product; I think risotto is supposed to be creamier. I would like to try cooking regular farro and see if there is a difference. The red wine vinegar cuts through the buttery farro and rich egg yolk, and the sweetness of the browned cauliflower offsets the savory scallions.

I really love eggs with a runny yolk… something about them, it just tastes like the elixir of life (which, it kind of is). This meal is super protein-packed and a great post-workout dish. The dish is vegan besides the egg, and can stand up without the egg if necessary.

If I make this again, though, I’ll definitely add some more veggies such as broccoli and/or peas for color and flavor.

Chickpea Flatbread

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Light, satisfying, full of protein and extremely easy to make! Just chickpea/garbanzo bean flour, water, a little olive oil and seasonings.

Chickpea Flatbread

Adapted from The Nutrition Twins

2 1/2 cups chickpea flour

3 1/2 cups flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

sprinkle of garlic powder

sprinkle of dried rosemary

pinch of salt and peppa

Put chickpea flour in a bowl, and whisk in the water. Add oil, mix, and spices and whisk until there are no lumps.

Let sit for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Oil a rimmed baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the batter into the pan to make one 1/4 inch thick layer, and carefully place in oven.

Bake for at least 30 minutes, maybe more depending on the size of your pan and desired golden brownness. You can broil for a few minutes to get a crispier top too!

Let cool and slice up.

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These were yummy, although I think baking a bit longer would have been a good idea. Definitely a win with using rosemary and garlic. These can be eaten as bread for a sandwich or spread with guacamole. If you’re feeling snackish, I would suggest eating warm or warming these up in the toaster (convection oven).

My dad actually ate hummus on top of his flatbread. Chickpea overload!

Cacao Nib Cookies …with browned butter, sea salt, and dark chocolate

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Easy as… cookie.

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Crunchy edges and outside; chewy and tender cookie.  Texture, nailed.

Browned butter, a mix of brown sugar and raw sugar, crunchy sea salt and both cacao nibs and 90% dark chocolate (yes, 90%)?  Taste, delectable.

Cacao nibs are crunchy and their bitterness complements the caramel/molasses flavor of the browned butter and sugars. Plus, we’re about 30% over the necessary 60%-minimum for dark chocolate–I think I can justify the stick of butter with the oodles of antioxidants.

Because butter is just so good.

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A perfect Mother’s Day treat… that my father also enjoyed (he ate four).

Cacao Nib Cookies

Adapted from The Food Yenta

1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of sugar in the raw
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks (I used 90%… if you’re a dark chocolate aficionado, this totally worked; feel free to substitute)
1/4 cup cacao nibs
sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown it (check out this post for some visuals and instructions… or just Google it). Carefully watch it; butter might take a while to brown but once it does it’s almost instantaneous and will definitely burn if not removed from the flame right away. (Uh… this didn’t happen or anything)
In a bowl, combine the sugars and add browned butter and combine. Add egg and vanilla extract; mix. Sift in the flour and baking powder and combined. Fold in the cacao nibs and chocolate. Dollop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheet by the tablespoonful. Be careful, these things will spread, so leave ample room (at least 2 inches, depending on the volume of dough you drop). Sprinkle some sea salt on each cookie. Bake for 8-12 minutes (depending on size of cookies), let cool on a wire rack, and savor every delicious bite. I got about 13 cookies but I made mine kind of large.

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These were so good and relatively easy after the browning of the butter was done (which you really don’t have to do, but it gives such a nice flavor). Perhaps next time I might add some roasted, chopped pecans… I feel like they would go really well with the brown sugar. Mmm. Now I want another cookie.