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!

Maple-Candied Walnuts & Almonds with Coconut

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While I am at work [short story: I work at the library here on campus; I process ILLs, check out books, help patrons with research questions, and occasionally help decorate display cases or do other odd jobs],  sometimes my boss and I will talk about the current news in the field of nutrition, like the Paleo diet and gluten sensitivity and the like. We exchange recipe ideas and she gave me this one, out of a book called The Candy Counter. After hearing rave reviews from my boss, I decided to make it too!

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Coincidentally, my friend Sarah asked me to bake a little something for her Teen Vogue party just a few days earlier!

This recipe couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s college-kitchen friendly–and slightly addicting.

Maple-Candied Walnuts & Almonds with Coconut

Adapted from The Candy Counter, page 192

1/2 cup grade A maple syrup

1 cup raw walnuts

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a bowl (I used a rubber/silicone nonstick bowl) and pour on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet; spread evenly (thinly as possible, to get those delicious browned edges). Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown, bubbling, and the coconut is nice and toasty.

Cool completely on the tray, either placed on a wire rack or just on top of the stove. Break into pieces. Store up to 1 week.

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These went over very well at the party, and made the lounge smell wonderfully mapley and delicious. Next time I think I would sprinkle a bit of sea salt to bring out the maple flavor, and perhaps roast it a bit longer… I was seriously paranoid it was going to burn.

The flavors of the nuts and the coconut and the maple syrup just complement each other so well. Crunchy, yummy finger food. The party was a lot of fun–it was a makeup/sharpie/photo-taking extravaganza! A great end to a long, post-spring-break-week.

Many thanks to Sarah for putting the party together and to Teen Vogue for supplying the makeup, Sharpie totes, and party decorations!

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…. and now it’s time for homework.

Curried Waldorf Salad with Pears

While lacking in color contrast, slightly under-ripe pears make a great substitution for apples in a Waldorf Salad. Do not be fooled by looks, for crunchy celery + toasted walnuts + sweet pears + chewy raisins + a spicy mayo/yogurt dressing to hold it all together are a definite treat to the palate in terms of flavors and more so, textures!

Curried Waldorf Salad

Adapted from the New York Times

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 cup plain 0% fat Greek yogurt

3/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt to taste

1 under-ripe anjou pear, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup lightly toasted walnut halves

1 cup thinly sliced celery, from the heart of the celery (or as many stalks as your taste for crunch goes for)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup celery leaves or flat-leaf parsley (or 2 tablespoons each), coarsely chopped

Combine the lemon juice, yogurt, mayonnaise, curry powder, cumin, and salt. Set aside.

Mix together the remaining ingredients and smother with the dressing.

Couldn’t be easier! Besides the tedious task of chopping stalk after stalk of celery. But I loved this different take on the Waldorf salad–I’m getting into spicier food lately (I have had a craving for Indian food since last summer, basically) and I loved the toasted walnuts together with the pears (classic combination) and the tangyness of the yogurt and mayo. Plus, all of the celery is used, even the leaves! Kudos for less food waste!

Favorite Pancakes

Next Sunday, make these delicious pancakes, jam-packed with fruit and nuts.

I am a definite texture fan; I like foods that combine crunchy and soft, so of course fruit-and-nut pancakes fit the bill.

These pancakes have become the standby for big Sunday morning post-workout breakfasts. This is actually my mom’s recipe that she has honed over the years. We make them as a team: I prepare the fruits, nuts, gather all the ingredients and measuring utensils; my mom throws it all together and cooks them to perfection.

Leftovers serve as amazing little meals during the week, cold or warmed up in the toaster oven.  The fruit additions are versatile; this recipe is just what we happened to have on hand today.

Favorite Pancakes

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 3/4 – 2 cups unsweetened Silk soymilk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (safflower)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 bananas – 2 smashed, 2 chopped in small half-circles

1 apple, chopped into small thin pieces

1 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts and/or pecans

optional: cocoa powder*, thinly sliced nectarine/peach, other fruits

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon, then add soymilk and eggs. Next, measure the oil into the batter, then the honey (the leftover oil in the measuring spoon will allow the honey to slide in easily), and add the vanilla extract. Mix in the smashed bananas and the rest of the fruits and nuts.

*We added 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder to the mix (cocoa and dark dark chocolate is great for lowering cholesterol and has antioxidants!) without any change in flavor; simply a health boost. We will continue to experiment with more tablespoons until we determine the maximum number of tablespoons of cocoa before a flavor change is apparent.

Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium-low heat. To check if it is ready, drop a few tiny drips of water and see if they bounce and skid to the edges of the pan. Yes? Start pouring small 1/4 cupfuls of pancake batter. Cook until they begin  bubbling, and then flip. They will be a bit more soft/denser in the middle than your normal flapjack.

Put on a plate while you cook the rest.

It may take some trial and error to get the right heat setting.

They are absolutely delicious on their own, but we usually eat them with any of the following: dollops of Greek yogurt; more fruit such as pineapple, blueberries, chopped strawberries; whipped cream; maple syrup; chia seeds; ground flax; wheat germ… this day I had applesauce and chia. It’s really up to you! They are super filling and perfect for a late breakfast or brunch.

Mixed Lettuces with Anjou Pears, Walnuts, Bleu Cheese, and Pickled Red Onions

I got Sheryl Crow’s new cookbook, If It Makes You Healthy from the library and was perusing the recipes.

They all looked pretty tasty. I wasn’t sure what to try.

When in doubt, ask someone else what looks good!

My dad decided on this salad. It contains many of his favorite elements: blue cheese, red onions, walnuts. Plus, I got to try a few new ingredients and cooking techniques like pickling. I’d never heard of champagne vinegar — but it is quite good and very champagne-y. Plus I discovered I actually like the taste of moldy cheese. Who knew?

Mixed Lettuces with Anjou Pears, Walnuts, Blue Cheese, and Pickled Red Onions

Adapted from Sheryl Crow’s cookbook, If It Makes You Healthy, pg 165

Serves 4

6 cups mesclun

1/2 cup champagne vinaigrette (see below)

2 Anjou pears, sliced and cored, not peeled

1 cup roughly chopped walnuts

3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (3-4 ounces)

1/2 cup Pickled Red Onions (see below)

In a large mixing bowl, toss the mesclun with about 1/4 cup of vinaigrette, then divide the greens among 4 plates/bowls. Lay 5-6 slices of pear on top of the greens on each plate, then sprinkle on some walnuts and blue cheese. Finally, place some pickled red onion on in a visually appealing fashion. Drizzle on more vinaigrette and serve.

Champagne Vinaigrette – pg 177

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1 small shallot or 1/2 a large one, finely chopped

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Using a blender or food processor, blend the vinegar with shallot, mustard, honey and garlic powder until just mixed.
Put the blender on medium speed and slowly drizzle the oil through the tube while it runs, until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Add 1 teaspoon of water at a time if it seems to thick; but I didn’t have to do this. Season with salt and pepper, and use immediately or refrigerate (shake/whisk before using).

Pickled Red Onions – pg 221

1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, and julienned/thinly sliced

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Place sliced onion into glass/ceramic/nonreactive bowl large enough to hold the onions plus, later on, the pickling liquid.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water with vinegar, salt, and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, pour over the onions, covering them. Stir and let stand for 4 hours at room temperature.
After 4 hours, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

This salad was really yummy, especially the champagne vinaigrette. The pickled onions were a little strong for me, but if you are like my dad who loves jalapeno peppers and/or hot seeds on everything, you’ll probably like them. I didn’t bother to toast the walnuts… Okay, truth, I tried toasting them in a skillet and then forgot about them, leaving me with lovely burnt walnuts… so, I decided to use raw. All of the various ingredients really complement each other. This meal would especially be good with fresh picked baby lettuces from your garden, if you have one.