Recipes of the Week: Lemon Squares, Cheesecake and other Yummy Treats!

pumpkin-cheesecakesDIY Cream Cheese Makes the Freshest Cheesecakes!

If you’ve ever been to one of my culinary/health talks or have spent much time hanging out in my online kitchen, you know I’m forever singing the praises of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt. Why? For many reasons. It has one-quarter the sugar of low-fat flavored yogurt, for one thing. The ingredient list on Fage plain whole-milk yogurt reads: “Milk, cream, cultures.” That’s it. The ingredient list on low-fat/no-fat yogurt reads like a chemistry lesson. With lots of sugar thrown in. Big difference right there.

Plus, whole-milk yogurt is far higher in protein than its de-fatted cousins, and that protein plus its unrefined fat means that whole-milk yogurt is far more filling than its watery, sugared-out brethren. Not needing as much yogurt because it’s so satisfying = not having to buy as much yogurt = lower grocery bills. Yet another perk.

Plus, I vastly prefer plain whole-milk Greek yogurt in place of everything from sour cream to mayo since I find the flavor of the yogurt to be more refreshing. If all of that isn’t enough, you can also transform whole-milk Greek yogurt into (a far more nutritious version of) cream cheese by simply letting it sit in a colander in the fridge overnight. The excess whey — that’s the liquid that rises to the top that we normally stir back in — will drain out and leave behind ultra-thick, velvety curds. Little Miss Muffet would be in tuffet-squatting culinary bliss.

Once you’ve scooped your DIY cream cheese out of the colander and into a bowl, you can spread it on whole-grain bagels, smear it on lox, or make cheesecake with it. (Or anything else you’d normally do with cream cheese.) I opted to make mini pumpkin cheesecakes with mine. All you need to do is whip up a simple crust in your food processor and tuck it into muffin cups before pouring in the pumpkin and baking your little cakes. Your homemade cream cheese will make these little cheesecakes marvelously creamy and lush!

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Homemade Cream Cheese

Makes 12 mini cheesecakes.

For the crust:

2 cups almond flour (handy tip: grinding sliced almonds in a coffee/spice grinder costs about half as much as buying pre-ground almond flour)

4 dates, pitted

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

6 T. melted butter (3/4 of a stick)

For the cheesecake:

About 1 1/2 cups whole-milk plain Greek yogurt (my favorite is Fage), which becomes about 1 cup of homemade cream cheese

2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens

1/2 cup freshly cooked or canned pumpkin

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

To make the homemade cream cheese, place the yogurt in a colander and suspend it over a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you’ll have your cream cheese! Use 1 cup for this recipe and keep any leftovers to use as you would store-bought cream cheese.

Preheat oven to 325F and line a muffin tin with 12 cups. Parchment cups will work FAR better than paper cups — paper cups may become wet and rip apart. Parchment cups are sturdy and will come away cleanly from whatever you’ve baked in them.

First, make the crust by placing all ingredients into a food processor and blending well. You may need to chop up the dates before adding them — halved or whole dates are difficult to process. Press enough of the crust into each muffin cup to completely cover the bottom.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the homemade cream cheese with the remaining cheesecake ingredients, stirring briskly until well-blended. Spoon into the crusted muffin cups. I like to pour the cheesecake batter into a two-cup measuring cup with a pouring spout, then pour the batter from that into each waiting cup. It’s much easier, less messy, and just overall more efficient than trying to spoon or scoop the batter out of the big mixing bowl. Each muffin cup will be nearly full.

Bake for 30 minutes at 325F, then reduce heat to 300F and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or until tops are just starting to crack and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing the cups from the tin. Don’t let it sit on the rack in the tin for too long — even parchment will eventually get soggy if it sits in a heated tin long enough to collect a substantial amount of moisture. Note that while the cheesecakes will be bubbly and high and threatening to come out of their cups when first removed from the oven, they’ll fall as they cool.

Place individual cups on rack and let cool completely before serving or stashing away in the fridge. Cheesecakes can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Not only do they make great desserts, they make great breakfasts, too!


Courtesy of The Cultured Cook.

pumpkin-cream-pastaPumpkin + Peas + Pasta = Yum!

When I do culinary talks, I often hand out a sheet I call “The Art of Refrigerator Triage.” It’s about letting your refrigerator make your dinner-making decisions for you so that the pressure is off both you and your wallet — if you make use of what you already have while it’s still fresh and tasty, you won’t go hungry and you won’t need to spend money on more groceries. Embracing the concept of refrigerator triage means that you won’t be one of the American families who throws away an average $2,300 of groceries every year. (That’s a vacation!)

Case in point: refrigerator triage is what inspired me to make this dish. I had some leftover canned pumpkin from having made pumpkin bread, some leftover cream from having made chocolate truffles, and some mushrooms that I had picked up on a whim. The fridge also held several green onions that weren’t going to last too much longer, and I knew I had the usual bag of peas stashed away in the freezer and a nice assortment of cheeses in the cheese drawer. (Can’t be without cheese! That’s a pantry staple as far as I’m concerned.) I decided to make use of my triage ingredients to make a pumpkin-cream pasta dish. Simple, delicious, and money-saving. Triple-yum!

Pumpkin-Cream Pasta with Mushrooms & Peas

Serves 2. Feel free to double or triple the recipe as needed.

2 servings whole-grain pasta of your choice (I used gluten-free spirals made with brown rice, amaranth, and quinoa)

8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

4 cloves garlic, sliced

3 green onions, trimmed and minced

3/4 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup roasted/canned pumpkin

1/4 cup cream or whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows

Grated cheese for garnish, preferably an aged savory cheese since the savoriness of an aged cheese provides a wonderful contrast to the sweetness of the pumpkin and peas (I used sheep’s-milk Manchego)

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, saute the mushrooms with a button of butter or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic, onions, and peas and continue to cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and stir in the pumpkin and cream. Add the cooked and drained pasta and heat through for another minute. You’ll wind up with a beautifully silky sauce from the combination of the somewhat-starchy pumpkin and the rich cream. The residual starch from the pasta will also lend the sauce a silky texture. No roux-making needed!

Serve the pasta with grated cheese on top. This would also be a great dish to pair with cooked chicken or sausage if you have any on hand. Opt for pastured chicken and/or sausage made with pastured meats, and you’ll have a dish that’s as nutritious as it is delicious!

Leftover pasta can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and gently reheated by stirring it in a pot for a minute or two over low medium-heat. (Don’t go for high heat since high heat could make the cream curdle.)


Courtesy of The Cultured Cook.

lemon-squaresEssential Lemon Squares

Ever have a craving for lemon?

Try these outstanding lemon bars using doTerra lemon essential oil in place of lemon extract. They’re absolutely delicious and will satisfy that fix for lemony goodness.


>> 2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour

>> 1 cup earth balance

>> 1/2 cup stevia

>> 4 large egg replacers

>> 1 fresh squeezed lemon or 5 drops essential lemon oil

>> 2 teaspoons lemon zest

>> ½ teaspoon baking powder

>> Powdered sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 F.

For crust, combine 2 cups flour, earth balance, and ½ cup stevia until slightly crumbly and somewhat moist. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9×13 glass plan with earth balance and press the mixture into pan.

Bake crust for about 15-20 minutes, until the edges are slightly brown and it’s springy.

While crust is in the oven, combine the rest of the stevia, four egg replacers, lemon juice or lemon essential oil, lemon zest, the remainder of the flour, and baking powder in a bowl. Mix until well combined.

When crust is done, pour the topping over crust and return to oven for about 20 minutes. Filling should be set.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Let cool for about two hours and dust with more powdered sugar, if desired.


Courtesy of The Elephant Journal.

raw-cacaoFood of the Gods: Raw Cacao Smoothie. ~ Karla Rodas

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved chocolate and chocolate has loved me.

It’s seen me through celebrations, festivities, heartbreaks and PMS.

In recent years, cacao, has been studied and recognized as a super food.

Cacao, in its untainted raw form was revered and used by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs as currency and in ritualistic offerings to the Gods. Used in moderation and in its pure form, cacao boosts heart health and our mood. The non-addictive and natural stimulant, theobromine, closely related to caffeine, provides us the natural euphoric experience.

To make about 2 cups of this dark, rich elixir:

2 cups of almond milk

1 cup of organic frozen fruit (pineapple, strawberries, get creative)

2 tbsp of raw cacao powder

1 tbsp almond butter

1 tbsp flax seeds (Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants)

1 banana

Optional: a handful of goji berries rich in vitamins, protein and antioxidants.

Blend the ingredients and promptly share with your lover!

Courtesy of The Elephant Journal.

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