No Bake Gluten Free Cheesecake

I’m going to be totally honest – when I want to indulge, nine times out of ten I am going to go for something that is salty rather than something sweet. I think one of the reasons behind this is when it comes to sweets, most of the time I find them to be too sweet for my liking. When I do have a dessert, I go for something like crème brulee or cheesecake, which also happens to be the husband’s absolute favorite. He eats his cheesecake plain, but I love to have mine with sweet and tangy fresh berries. While this recipe is not vegan, this crust is inspired by a dessert I had on my birthday at this adorable vegan bakery in Montreal. I love that the sweetness in this recipe is coming from dates, that the dairy is organic and how the crust looks like a traditional graham cracker crust but the texture and taste are their own. I am still trying to figure out a better for you crème brulee recipe (which may be impossible?!) but until then, I will keep whipping up some of this cheesecake and savoring every bite!

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Better For You No Bake Gluten Free Cheesecake

Makes 8 Servings
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Refrigerator Time: 2-3 hours

Ingredients:
For the Crust:
½ Cup Walnut Halves
½ Cup Pecan Halves
½ Cup Raw Almonds
1/8 Tsp Salt
6 Medjool Dates, Pits Removed

For the Filling:
1 Brick Organic Neufchatel Cheese (Or Cream Cheese)
½ Cup Organic Fat Free Greek Yogurt
¾ Cup Cold Organic Heavy Cream
1 Tbsp Real Maple Syrup
6 Medjool Dates, Pits Removed
¼ Cup Boiling Water
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tsp Lemon Juice

Instructions:

1. Remove the cream cheese from the refrigerator and place a metal bowl and the metal beaters from a hand mixer into the refrigerator to chill.

2. Add the walnuts, pecans, almonds and salt to a food processor. Chop up the dates and distribute them evenly on top of the nuts.

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3. Pulse the nuts in five second increments until the mixture looks like small crumbles. I did this about 5 times.

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4. Dump the mixture into a pie plate and press the mixture evenly onto the pie plate with clean hands or the back of a metal spoon. Place the crust into the refrigerator.

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5. Chop the remaining 6 dates and cover with ¼ cup of boiling water lemon juice and vanilla extract. Press the dates down down and stir them with a fork and let sit for a minute or two.

6. Clean and dry the food processor from making the crust. Add the Organic Neufchatel Cheese and Greek Yogurt to the food processor and blend until combined.

7. Give the date mixture a stir. The dates should be mostly broken down at this point. Add to the food processor and pulse until everything is mixed well. Scrape the sides down and pulse again.

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8. Remove the heavy cream, metal bowl and beaters from the refrigerator. Add the cream to the bowl and beat the cream using a hand blender for about three minutes. Add the maple syrup and continue to beat the whipped cream until it becomes stiff and is no longer runny.

9. Spoon the cream cheese mixture from the food processor into the cream cheese and blend with the hand mixer until combined.

10. Retrieve your crust from the refrigerator and spoon the filling in. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon or a frosting knife.

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11. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

Notes:
Top the cheesecake with fresh berries, dark chocolate shavings, lemon zest or whipped cream.

My Favorite Chinese Greens

Since today is the first day of the Lunar New Year (Year of the Pig!) I thought it would be the perfect time to share three of my favorite Chinese leafy green vegetables – Shanghai bok choy, yu choy and pea tips. Some of the more common vegetables found in Asian or Chinese cuisine such as bok choy can often be found at regular supermarkets, but it is my experience that the best variety and freshest options are found at Asian supermarkets.

All of these vegetables listed below are excellent sources of vitamins A and C and are nutritious, tasty and low calorie additions to any meal. If you are sick of eating the same veggies over and over, I would strongly encourage you to try one of the below options!

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Shanghai Bok Choy

I have seen this labeled as baby bok choy (which is actually entirely different) as well as baby Shanghai bok choy but this vegetable is actually Shanghai bok choy and since it’s my family’s favorite, growing up it was just referred to as bok choy. This mild vegetable is enjoyed by many and is great as a side dish for most meals. The flavor is mild with a hint of sweetness. There is no bitterness to this vegetable. I like to rinse the Bok Choy well and cut it into roughly one inch pieces and cook in in a pan sprayed with oil for a tablespoon or two of water and a sprinkle of salt until the thicker bottom pieces are translucent in color and have softened. I also love grilling bok choy. I start by cutting these in half lengthwise, spraying them with oil, seasoning them (I usually just use a sprinkle of salt and pepper on them) and grilling them cut side down 5-10 minutes or until the bottoms are opaque and softened. Bok Choy also works well in broth soups, just add it at the end.

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Yu Choy/Choy Sum

This vegetable is super easy to cook and serve in its own but it’s hearty enough that you could cook it with other vegetables in a stir fry. Another popular vegetable that looks similar and tastes similar to yu choy despite it being a bit more bitter is gai lan or Chinese broccoli.  Yu choy makes a great dish to serve along side of a Chinese meal or with a protein and roasted potatoes. Yu Choy has a mild taste, similar to that of spinach. I cook this vegetable by heating a couple tablespoons of water in a pan and adding in two cloves of minced garlic. Once the garlic begins to become translucent, I add the yu choy  to the pan. I cook it for 5-10 minutes and I season it with salt. You could also add a drizzle of olive over or a squirt of lemon!

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Pea Tips/Snow Pea Tips/Pea Leaves

In Chinese cuisine, snow pea tips are usually considered a bit of a treat. I almost always see these on the menu at Chinese restaurants being sold at market price and at in my family growing up, this green s usually saved to go with a more elaborate meal or occasion and not just regularly served with dinner. I love the flavor, simplicity and texture of sautéed snow pea leaves so I buy them much more often. While I love having these alone as a side, I have also used leftovers inside an egg white omelet and inside homemade rice or quinoa bowls with tofu and other veggies.  The pea tips have a very mild, pea flavor and are tender enough to even eat raw in a salad. While I usually use mostly water even to sauté my greens, these pea tips get special treatment. After washing and drying these bad boys, I heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a hot pan and then add in my pea tips, season them with salt and wait for them to cook down a bit and turn bright green. When I go to serve them, I empty the entire contents of the pan into the serving dish, including any liquid that was produced during the cooking process as it is super flavorful. These are also typically cooked with garlic in a method similar to how I prepare yu choy, but it is my preference to only season with salt and let the flavor of the pea tips star on their own!

Are there any vegetables or fruits that you and your family eat that may not be considered “everyday” items in American cooking? I would love to hear about it in the comments, I love trying new things!

 

Vegetarian “Chicken Wing” Dip with Jackfruit

Have you guys ever had jackfruit? A year or two ago I was at the grocery store and saw a package of pre-made, bbq style jackfruit that I just had to try. I thought it was really good, but I wanted to experiment with making my own creations with this fruit that has the texture and appearance of pulled pork or pulled chicken.

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You can find whole, raw jackfruit at many Asian supermarkets. This fruit is absolutely massive – usually the size of a large, oblong watermelon and can be rather messy to “butcher” at home. For this recipe (and others!), I take a shortcut and buy the young/green/unripe canned stuff that’s much easier to manage and allows me to whip up recipes in no time. Despite its name, this young/green/unripe jackfruit isn’t sweet the way you’d think of most fruits and it really takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with. Additionally, it’s fat free, has 0 grams of sugar and is rich in fiber.

I created this recipe because it has all the flavor of traditional chicken wing dip but without the meat and without the bottled ranch or blue cheese dressing. When I first became a vegetarian, I was all about the imitation meat substitutes. The more I have learned about nutrition, the more I have realized that “fake meat” is not the solution. While there are definitely exceptions, many “fake meat” options and many imitation dairy products are full of crappy ingredients. If you follow me on Instagram you probably know about my obsession with the Miyoko’s line of vegan dairy product alternatives which I would consider an exception! This brand has some amazing plant based products with awesome ingredients. The vegan butter is my favorite and absolutely AMAZING. I have even converted a slew of dairy lovers to the Miyoko’s butter! You could easily swap some Miyoko’s vegan cream cheese/vegan cheese for the dairy products I used in this recipe to make it vegan.

Vegetarian “Chicken Wing” Dip with Jackfruit

Makes 8 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 20 Oz Can of Young/Green/Unripe Jackfruit (~10 oz Jackfruit When Drained)
1 8 Oz Brick of Organic Cream Cheese or Organic Neufchatel Cheese, Softened
1/4 Tsp Dried Dill
1 Tsp Dried Parsley
1/2 Tsp Onion Powder
1 Tsp Garlic Powder
1/3 Cup of Frank’s Red Hot
2 Oz – 4 Oz Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Optional: Scallions for Garnish

Instructions:

    1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
    2. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, dill, parsley, onion powder and garlic powder. Tip: If you forgot to take the cream cheese out of the fridge to soften, zap it in the microwave for 15 seconds. If it is still not soft enough, microwave it for another 15 seconds!
    3. Open and drain the can of jackfruit. Using clean hands (this should be a given but I had to say it) or two forks, “shred” the jackfruit. You will begin to see strands and the the jackfruit will look like pulled pork. image3You may notice that the jackfruit has some  little pods that look like beans or seeds. These are fully edible, but you may remove them if you choose!image2
    4. Add the hot sauce to the softened cream cheese and herb mixture and mix well. Add the jackfruit and mix until everything is combined.image6
    5. Scrape the dip into an oven safe 8×8 baking dish or pie plate.
    6. Grate the cheese over the top of the dip creating an even layer. I use a grater like this with smaller holes as I feel like I can get ample cheesey coverage with less cheese. I personally used 2 oz of cheese for my dip, but up to 4 oz would be fine! Tip: If you don’t have a food scale and you purchased a standard 8 oz brick of cheese, cut the brick of cheese in half and then in half again. Each of the four pieces will be roughly 2 ounces!
    7. Bake the dip for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the dip is heated through.image5

I love serving this dip with cut up peppers, carrots, celery and of course corn chips. What are some of your favorite snacks and what healthier twists do you put on them?

How to Incorporate More Plants Into Your Life and Why

I am a big believer that environment can play a huge role in attitude and I am a big believer that attitude can play a huge role in health. Plants are something that I absolutely love having in my home and are a simple and affordable way to make a positive impact on your environment. Research has shown that plants can have a positive impact on mood by reducing stress and that they can create healthier indoor air, especially in areas with poor ventilation. While I’m over here trying to keep my plants alive and to get rid of my reputation as an accidental plant killer, I have compiled a few tips on how to incorporate more plants into your life!

  1. Choose plants you can enjoy year round. If you are like me and live in an area with cold winters, find plants that do well whether inside or outside. I have several of these boxwood plants in my yard but I also have several in planters. These boxwood plants will go back outside in planters that match my outdoor space when the weather is nice again, but for now I will enjoy the brightness they bring to the indoors in planters that match the inside of my home.

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2. Use plants as an accent/decor. I really like to keep things simple and neutral color-wise, but I have a decent amount of plants and for the most part they are green. I guess you could say I use my plants as an accent color and also as decor.

3.  Choose plants that are useful. In my kitchen I grow herbs. I am able to use these as decor and they are also great to have on hand for cooking. In one of my bathrooms, picture below, I have an aloe plant. While it may look like any other plant that is simply decorative, this plant has come in very handy to use on burns and is also super easy to grow.

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4. Remind yourself of what inspires you. As an extra, non-plant related tip, choose a few quotes that you enjoy and have them displayed in your home. These quotes are ideally going to contain reminders or inspiration for the day. Choose wisely so that you are not inundated with these quote signs and therefore the ones you do have will be more meaningful. I have found pre-made signs with quotes I love, hired sign makers to create signs with quotes I love and also created my own prints and then framed them.

5. Give the gift of plants. While you consider the addition of plants to your home or work spaces, you may also want to consider plants as gifts, favors or centerpieces. One of my favorite housewarming gifts we have received is this beautiful and unique plant. My husband has brought me plants instead of flowers. For both my brothers rehearsal dinner and my rehearsal dinner, we used plants in pretty decorative containers that guests were able to take home. This sustainable alternative to cut flowers will be cherished for as long as the recipient can keep the plant alive!

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What plants do you have at home? What house plant tips do you have?


References:
1. Claudio L. Planting Healthier Indoor Air. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(10). doi:10.1289/ehp.119-a426.
2. Qin J, Sun C, Zhou X, Leng H, Lian Z. The effect of indoor plants on human comfort. Indoor and Built Environment. 2013;23(5):709-723. doi:10.1177/1420326×13481372.

Quick Cannellini Bean Salad

Something I am trying to be more conscious about is food waste and how to reduce it in my home. This recipe came to fruition as I was chopping up celery to roast and to use in a soup. I was trimming away the leaves from the celery and realized that they were a perfectly good and usable part of the vegetable so instead of throwing them away or saving them for a stock, I decided to set them aside in a colander to use later for salads. The mild celery flavor from the leaves compliments the smooth and creamy beans, bright lemon, sweet onion and spicy garlic perfectly! If you don’t have any celery at home, try using parsley or any other fresh herbs you may have on hand!

Cannellini Bean Salad

Makes 4 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
1 15 Ounce Can of Cannellini Beans
¼ of a Sweet Onion
1 Stalk Green Onion
1 Handful of Celery Leaves Chopped or Parsley
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice from ½ a Lemon
1 Clove of Garlic
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Instructions:
1. Rinse the cannellini beans and drain. While they are draining, finely mince the ¼ of an onion and the garlic. Thinly slice the green onion, stopping when it gets to the white portion.

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2. Clean and dry celery leaves (or parsley) and finely chop.

3. Add the drained beans, onion, garlic, green onion and celery leaves to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon zest if desired.

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If you don’t have cannellini beans, use chick peas or navy beans instead.  Lemon juice may also easily be substituted with 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Eat this recipe as a side, or pair with a protein for a full meal. How do you cut down on food waste? I would love to hear any tips you may have!

Basic Lower Fat Hummus

Have you ever picked up an item at the store or even purchased something, brought it home and then scoped out the label only to be confused as to how some strange ingredients ended up in a seemingly straight forward product? I have. So many times. While you may pick up an item and simply toss it in your chart thinking it must be pretty straight forward, I have found things like tons of added sugar in jarred pasta sauce and crackers, and chemical preservatives in items like hummus and canned jalapeños. While I know it’s not realistic to make everything at home and everything from scratch, there are still so many things we can make at home very quickly and therefore we are in full control of the fat, sugar, sodium and ingredient content!

This basic hummus recipe has tons of flavor but half the fat of the average store bought hummus (yes, fats from plant sources are still fats!) and is a great base for you to be creative and try different add-ins and toppings!

Basic Lower Fat Hummus
Servings: 18 (~2 Tbsp Each)
Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Ingredients:
2 Cans of Chickpeas, Drained (15 Oz Each)
2 Tsp Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Cumin
1/4 Tsp Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Tahini
Juice from 1 Lemon (About 5 Tbsp)
1/4 Cup Water

Optional Topping Ideas: Fresh Herbs (dill, parsley, scallions), Chopped Almonds, Chili Powder, Olives

Instructions:
1. Add all ingredients except water to a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Scrape sides down if necessary.
2. Add 1/4 cup of water and blend again. If hummus appears to be too dry, add water in Tablespoon increments until desired consistency is achieved.

Your homemade hummus is good in the refrigerator for a week!

How do I use my hummus?! I use it as a dip for veggies, a spread for sandwiches and wraps, a topping on salad and I’ve even used it in place of mayo in egg salad! Try tossing some hummus on a piece of naan bread with a little feta cheese and popping it on the grill then adding loads of fresh veggies on top for a summer pizza!