Happy New Year: Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

“It has to be special….”

The ending of a year can generate different emotions. Sadness if the year was especially good. Relief if the year was especially difficult. Anticipation for the possibilities of a new year. Frustration about unfinished items. Guilt about lost opportunities. Joy for upcoming planned opportunities.

When the ending is also the ending of a decade (depending on how you count, that is), those emotions can sometimes be compounded because now we may be looking back at ten years instead of one and experiencing all the same emotions. For me, my husband and I celebrated a milestone this month – 25 years of marriage – so, for me, I find today holding all the joy, sadness, frustration, guilt and anticipation of and for two and a half decades.

As such, when the family talked about what food to have to celebrate tonight’s festivities, the word “special” kept coming up. A special dinner, a special dessert, special treats and snacks. The family wanted something we do not usually have and which would make tonight feel different and festive.

So, to celebrate, I made a dark chocolate cheesecake which is dairy and gluten free, and in case anyone decides they want something “special” in 2020, I am sharing it below. Happy New Year!

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Ingredients:

2 cups Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips

3 pkgs dairy free 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup coconut sugar or monk fruit sweetener blend

1/2 cup dairy free sour cream, at room temperature

2 tbsp unsweetened Hershey special dark cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 cup Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips

chopped Enjoy Life chocolate

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch spring form pan with your preferred method and cover the bottom of the pan with two layers of aluminum foil. Boil water, and get out a pan large enough to fit the spring form pan inside.
  2. In a microwave safe container, melt the chocolate chips for a minute and stir until the chips are completely melted and smooth. If you need more time, microwave 15 seconds at a time until you can stir the chocolate to smoothness. Then set aside to cool.
  3. In a mixer, blend together the cream cheese until smooth.
  4. Add the coconut sugar and blend well, scraping the bowl as needed.
  5. Temper the chocolate mixture by stirring in a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture. Then add all of the chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and blend well.
  6. Mix the sour cream with the cocoa powder until completely blended. Then add the chocolate sour cream to the cream cheese batter and mix well.
  7. Add the vanilla and blend.
  8. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, scraping the bowl as needed.
  9. Pour the chocolate cream cheese batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  10. Place the pan into the larger pan and place into the oven, pouring the boiling water into the larger pan to cover up to at least the halfway point of the spring form pan.
  11. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake the cheesecake for 50 to 65 minutes until the cheesecake is mostly firm with the center being still a bit jiggly.
  12. Turn off the heat and allow the cheesecake to finish cooking and cooling in the oven with the heat off and the door open for about an hour.
  13. Remove the spring form pan from the oven and remove the aluminum foil and put the cheesecake into the fridge to completely cool, at least four hours, preferably overnight.
  14. Put the dark chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl with the coconut milk and microwave for a minute. Stir until the chips are completely melted and chocolate begins to glisten and become smooth.
  15. Remove the cheesecake from the spring form pan and carefully pour the chocolate ganache over the cheesecake to your liking.
  16. Sprinkle the top of the ganache with chopped chocolate and enjoy!

 

 

Recipe Revamping: Peppermint Brownies

“Holiday indulgences….”

So often, people will tell me that they’re fine with the “regular, other time of the year” desserts they eat having no sugar and being low fat and healthy but that when the holidays roll around, that seems somehow “wrong”.

I hear you.

Holidays seem like the one time when you’re allowed to indulge, and when you look at the calender, there are no less than half a dozen events in two weeks, all of which expect you to bring something holiday-ish and decadent to share.

My thoughts are that, yes, it is okay to loosen up a bit on the “health” of your holiday desserts, but at the same time, I will argue that you don’t have to necessarily add back all the sugar and fat for something to be indulgent.

Recently, someone share a recipe for peppermint brownies with me. It called for 1 1/2 cups of butter, 1 1/2 pound of chocolate, 5 eggs, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour, 2 tsp peppermint extract, and six candy canes.

As you an imagine, I immediately tried to figure out if there was a way to revamp this recipe so that it would be at least a smidgeon less unhealthy and still decadently delicious. To do so, I reduced the butter by a third and replaced it with vegan butter. I reduced the chocolate to 20 oz and substituted Enjoy Life’s allergy friendly dark chocolate chips. I removed one egg, and since there was sugar in the chocolate, I reduced the sugar by three-quarters and swapped out monk fruit sweetener for the sugar. I reduced the flour by 1/4 cup and substituted a combination of cassava and garbanzo bean flours which are grain free flours. I then reduced the candy canes to four and used special brown rice syrup peppermint candy sticks instead of candy canes.

The result was a very tasty brownie which folks can feel comfortable sharing for the holidays.

Peppermint Brownies:

Ingredients:

1 cup vegan soy free butter

Two 10 oz packages Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips (divided: one pkg plus one cup; remaining chips)

4 eggs

1/2 cup golden monk fruit sweetener or coconut sugar

1/2 cup cassava flour

1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp pure peppermint extract

4 peppermint sticks (you can use regular if you can’t find the brown syrup version)

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a microwave or over a double boiler, melt one 10 oz bag plus one cup of chocolate chips from the second bag with the vegan butter. Stir until smooth and let it sit to cool while doing the next step.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs with the monk fruit sugar until thick and blended.
  4. Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and blend well.
  5. Stir together the flours and salt and then stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until all the flour mixture is well mixed into the chocolate mixture.
  6. Melt the remaining chips, mix until smooth and add the peppermint extract.
  7. Spread the chocolate batter evenly into the prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of the peppermint chocolate onto the batter and swirl the drops into the batter.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes. While the brownies are doing their initial bake, crush the peppermint sticks. I just put them into a heavy bag and whack them with my rolling pin. Works very well. You can find a more refined approach if you prefer.
  9. Remove the brownies from the oven, sprinkle the crushed peppermint pieces evenly over the top, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  10. Remove brownies from the oven and allow them to cool completely before cutting them into bite size pieces and enjoying.

Handling Holidays: Grain Free, Vegan Pumpkin Pie

“It’s just one more thing….”

The song tells us that “it is the most wonderful time of the year,” but all too often it is also the most stressful time of the year. On top of the usual routines and busyness, we add having to prepare for festive dinners and company, present shopping, holiday recitals and business gatherings, and a myriad of other events and preparations which are squashed into a six week period of time.

If you add on top of all that having to make sure that the food you prepare can accommodate Uncle Bob’s dietary restrictions and little Susan’s food allergies, it can become overwhelming – as one mom mentioned to me this week. She needed to know how to make a pumpkin pie which was grain free, vegan, and nut free. She figured the nut free part she could do, but she didn’t know what to do about the grain free and vegan parts.

So, I went to work. Instead of wheat flour and butter for the crust, I used Cassava flour and vegan butter which are grain free and vegan, but decreased the butter from 16 tbsp to 10, which was more than enough. For the pumpkin filling, I used flax milk and arrow root flour to substitute for the evaporated milk and egg, both of which are grain free and vegan. Because this would affect the silky, custardy texture, though, of the pie, I added a small amount of oil to the filling to increase the fat content but which added good fats instead of bad. For both the crust and the pie, I omitted sugar, using only a small amount of agave and some monk fruit sweetener for the filling so folks could really taste the pumpkin. For added flavor for both the crust and filling, I used spices and orange peel. The result was a tasty pie which the whole family could enjoy.

Vegan, Grain Free Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients for the crust: (will make two crusts)

2 1/2 cups cassava flour

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp grated, dried orange peel

1 cup plus 2 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp vinegar

6 to 10 tbsp cold water

Ingredients for filling: (filling is for one pie; double for two)

2 3/4 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin

1 1/2 cup unsweetened flax milk (can use soy or almond milk if you prefer; just make sure it has no grain starches added)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp grated, dried orange peel

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp agave

1/4 golden monk fruit sweetener blend

1 tbsp arrow root flour

1 tbsp extra light olive oil

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients for the crust: the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel.
  3. Cut in the butter with a pastry knife or grate cold butter squares with a grater into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Add the vinegar and cold water, beginning with 6 tbsp and adding one tablespoon at a time as needed until the doug is moistened and holds together well for rolling.
  5. Form the dough into two balls and then pat into disc shape. Roll one of the balls between two pieces of wax or parchment paper dusted with flour to fit 9 or 9.5 inch pie pans. (If making two pies, do the same with the other ball. If only making one pie, wrap the disc tightly in plastic wrap twice and put into the fridge. Will last for a couple of weeks. Just be sure to let it sit at room temperature before rolling for use.)
  6. Shape the crust in the pie pan and set aside.
  7. Combine the pumpkin, flax milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, orange peel, salt, agave, and monk fruit sweetener until well blended.
  8. Add the arrow root flour and olive oil. Mix well.
  9. Pour into the prepared crust.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes until the filling has puffed a bit and only jiggles in the center.
  11. Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for 15 to 30 minutes, before placing in the fridge to cool and set completely.
  12. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Hints: Allergy Friendly Ice Cream Cake

“Don’t be people who destroy hearts….”

I watch as Yoko Kawashima Watkins, author of So Far from the Bamboo Grove, explains to a group of 7th graders that the Japanese Kanji for “busy” is a combination of the characters for “heart” and “destroy”. At 83, her body is frail but her voice is strong as she leans in closer to the children.

“Never have I told anyone that I am ‘busy’,” she says to them. “I don’t want to destroy anyone’s heart, and neither do you, right?”

Her gaze takes in each individual child as they vigorously nod their heads. They’ve already promised to thank their “honorable” parents for all that they do to take care of them (without letting their parents know that Yoko told them to do so, of course), so what could it hurt to agree with Yoko on this, too?

Later after I drive Yoko home, I think about the Japanese Kanji for “busy” and how interesting it is to me that being busy is seen as something that destroys one’s heart. Here in the States, being busy means you’re being productive, getting things done, not slacking off. When we’re “too busy”, then maybe it is something which can destroy one’s heart, but being just plain busy?

The holidays are probably a good example of what Yoko meant, though. Often the busyness of preparing for the holidays eclipses the amount of time actually spent just being with family members. For this reason, I’ve always tried to keep food prep to a minimum in favor of more time with my family, and as we think about yet another “special” dessert for New Year’s, I thought I’d share the fastest dessert recipe I have – allergy friendly ice cream cake.

You simply buy two flavors of your favorite pint size ice creams, a package or two of your favorite cookies, and a container of a chocolate frosting – all of which can be found in allergy friendly options- and within ten minutes you can assemble a dessert which will be both pretty and delicious. Below I will post the version which is pictured above.

Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients:

2 pint size containers of allergy friendly vanilla ice cream (I used So Delicious coconut milk version)

8 to 10 oz package of allergy friendly chocolate sandwich cookies (I used KinniToos)

2 cups of allergy friendly chocolate animal crackers (I used K-Kritters)

2 pint size containers of allergy friendly chocolate ice cream (I used Cados avocado version)

one cup chocolate frosting (I used Simple Mills)

Sprinkles (optional)

Assembling Instructions:

  1. Take out the four pints of ice cream and let them sit on the counter while you crush the cookies.
  2. Crush the chocolate sandwich cookies into bit size chunks and set aside.
  3. Crush the chocolate animal crackers into medium-sized crumbs.
  4. In a large bowl, scoop out the vanilla ice cream, and using a rubber spatula or wide wooden spoon, mix the chocolate sandwich cookie chunks into the ice cream until well mixed.
  5. Spread the ice cream evenly into a 10 inch spring form pan, making sure to level the ice cream flat.
  6. Sprinkle the chocolate animal cracker crumbs evenly over the layer of ice cream.
  7. Scoop out the chocolate ice cream into the large bowl and mix until the ice cream is soft and spreadable.
  8. Drop the ice cream gently in scoops to evenly cover the animal crackers. Then carefully spread the ice cream evenly over the chocolate crumbs and level the ice cream flat.
  9. Put the ice cream cake into the freezer for a few minutes while you’re working on the frosting.
  10. In a small bowl, stir the chocolate frosting until it is soft and spreadable. Spread it evenly over the ice cream cake.
  11. If desired, decorate the top of the ice cream cake with sprinkles.
  12. Put the cake back into the freezer and freeze until ready to eat.
  13. To cut the cake, run a butter knife around the edge of the pan and remove the side of the spring form pan. Run a large knife under hot water and cut the cake into wedges to serve.

 

Holiday Hints: Finger Treats

“Mercury is in retrograde….”

It began shortly before Thanksgiving. One of my daughters started having mysterious hives. My other daughter needed to come home for health reasons. The microwave wouldn’t work. The blender broke. My back went out. The drama scripts didn’t arrive as they were supposed to have. The Christmas cards fell into the mud. One of the ears of my glasses fell off. The printer went on the fritz. A gift disappeared. My mother lost a long time friend unexpectedly to undiagnosed cancer. The rice cooker became temperamental. My husband’s sleep apnea increased. BJ’s called to say my newly ordered glasses’ frames were no longer in stock.

Within the past couple of weeks, the universe seemed to be sending me a message, and when I told a friend about my experiences, she said, “Well, you know mercury has been in retrograde.” I laughed because that certainly explained it!

None of the experiences above are unusual. They are a part of life, and they happen all throughout the year, but at the holiday time, they can feel extra overwhelming because we have so many other things we are trying to do… buying presents, attending holiday parties, going to the children’s winter concerts and recitals, planning for family gatherings. And when we have food allergies and need to bring goodies to share, the pressure can sometimes feel like it’s too much.

That’s why I have some easy finger treats which I fall back upon for holiday treating of folks, and when I received an email yesterday asking about what someone could easily make for a party, I decided I’d post some ideas for anyone else who might be wondering the same thing.

One of my favorite easy treats is Chocolate Truffles because they only require two ingredients, are quick to make, and if you put them into little cupcake liners and put them on a plate, folks think you’ve worked hard when you haven’t.

Another simple treat is what I have pictured above which are cheesecake bites. When I make cheesecake and have leftovers, I turn those leftovers into the bites to bring to parties by scooping out tablespoons of the cheesecake and rolling them in gluten free graham cracker crumbs. For the holidays, using Cranberry Cheesecake or Ginger Spice Cheesecake are always good choices. If you haven’t made any cheesecake recently, you can use store bought cheesecake (Daiya makes an allergy friendly version which you can often find in the freezer section of grocery stores) which you bring to room temperature and then roll into the bites. What’s great is you can vary the crumb coating by also using your favorite cookies which you crush. Then, when you put the bites into muffin liners with the different types of coating, they look pretty.

A treat I just made last week are what I call “butter melts”. You take your favorite “butter” as in peanut butter or almond butter or sunbutter or cashew butter… whichever you prefer and fits your allergy needs, mix it with some vegan butter and a little bit of powdered sugar, and roll them into balls and put them into the freezer on wax or parchment paper for about ten to 15 minutes until they’ve hardened and you can coat them with chocolate. The recipes you will find online use crazy amounts of real butter and powdered sugar. I cut the amounts considerably, and for 1 cup of sunbutter, I use a tablespoon of vegan butter and just enough powdered sugar to make the “butter” rollable, which is always less than the cup to two cups called for in regular recipes. I also don’t dip the balls into the chocolate. I simply drizzle chocolate over the top, put them into the freezer for a few minutes, flip and drizzle the other side and put them back into the freezer for another couple of minutes. Much easier, neater, and quicker than dipping! For the chocolate coating, just melt allergy friendly chocolate chips with a tsp or two of a fat like coconut oil or avocado oil or vegan butter or shortening until the chips melt when you stir them. I usually do this in 20 second intervals.

A final finger treat idea I offer is making your own chocolate bark. This is fun as well as quick. Simply put 10 to 12 ounces of your favorite allergy friendly chocolate chips into a large microwavable bowl with 2 to 3 tsp of your favorite fat (coconut oil, vegan shortening, vegan butter, a plant based oil) and melt in the microwave in 20 seconds intervals until stirring the chips completely dissolves them. Put wax paper or parchment paper in a 10 x 15 pan and spread the chocolate mixture to cover the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate with whatever you want (peppermint candies, nuts, chocolates, pretzels, m & m’s, cookie chunks, etc…) and put the pan into the fridge until the chocolate hardens. Then you break them up into bite size pieces and arrange them in muffin liners to look pretty.

 

 

Thanksgiving Thoughts: Easy Roasted Vegetable Medley

“Do you have a go-to recipe..?”

For the past couple of weeks I have been posting some thoughts for different dishes folks could consider making for Thanksgiving, and this week someone wrote in, asking whether there was anything “easy” I tended to always make.

The answer is, “Yes.” My go-to for any occasion, not just Thanksgiving, is a medley of roasted vegetables. It’s easy to do, looks pretty, and can be “jazzed” up. I use frozen, chopped vegetables, which cuts both the roasting and prep times, and once the vegetables are roasted, it takes just minutes to “adorn” them. Once that’s completed, the vegetables can sit in your fridge until about thirty minutes before you’re ready to eat them, at which point, you simply warm them at 300 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.

If I am making the medley for Thanksgiving, I try to make them a bit more “special” by caramelizing onions and adding it to the vegetables or roasting garlic and adding slivers with freshly chopped herbs. Sometimes I make a gluten free bread crumb topping and top the vegetables with it. Other times, I make it “au gratin” and add vegan parmesan. Any of these options makes for a delicious side dish.

For folks who are wondering about the turkey which may go with the roasted veggies, I did a post a couple of years ago which you can find at Turkey Talk and which provides some tips for tackling turkey.

Roasted Vegetable Medley

Ingredients:

olive oil

frozen vegetables of choice (baby carrots, butternut squash, baby brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc…)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Arrange vegetables of the same size in an ovenproof pan and drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil. Mix and roast in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, turning every four to five minutes, until the vegetables are to the desired tenderness.
  3. If you have vegetables of different sizes, you may need to do a couple of rounds of roasting, by size, until all your vegetables are done.
  4. Arrange all the vegetables in a pan that fits them well. Top with your desired method of flavoring: mixing with freshly chopped herbs and black pepper; caramelizing onions and mixing them in; roasting garlic and mixing in slivers; making a bread crumb topping and sprinkling it on top; shaking parmesan on top.
  5. If serving immediately, you’re good to go. If serving at a later time or day, simply allow the vegetables to cool, cover well, and then thirty minutes before meal time, heat the dish at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until warm.

Thanksgiving Thoughts: Vegan Pumpkin Pie, Two Ways

“But pie….”

After posting the black bean-kale soup recipe, I received a question about pies. More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving tends to be about the pies. Pumpkin, apple, cranberry-pear, and mince meat tend to be the more traditional pies associated with Thanksgiving, but I have seen people put out other types like lemon meringue and chocolate pies as well. For today’s post, I’ll focus on the question asked which was for a vegan pumpkin pie, but below are links to other pies I’ve posted about in the past.

Apple Pies

Struesel Cranberry Pear Pies

Peach Pies

Chocolate Pies

Making a pumpkin pie vegan is easy. For the crust, folks can simply substitute vegan butter, vegan shortening or coconut oil for the butter or shortening in any pie crust recipe without anything else needing to be done to the recipe.

For the pumpkin filling, the first ingredient which makes pumpkin pie non-vegan is the eggs, and in pumpkin pie, the eggs simply act as a binder, which is simple to replace. To make a pumpkin pie which is just like regular egg-filled pumpkin pie, the easiest substitute for the eggs is a flour or a starch. Most recipes you’ll find use cornstarch. Many folks, however, are allergic to corn, and I personally like to add protein and/or fiber if possible when I can, so I opt to use a gluten free flour like oat or millet or sorghum.

The other ingredient in pumpkin pie which is dairy is the milk, whether it’s evaporated milk or heavy cream which is used. To substitute for milk in a pumpkin pie, one can choose a plant based “milk” like almond or soy or hemp or flax or any other type on the market which you prefer.  Usually 1 1/2 cups of a “milk” is equivalent to a can of evaporated milk.

For folks who might want a slightly different pumpkin pie and who are not allergic to soy, I also make a pie using tofu which tends to be a heartier, more protein filled pie. Pureed tofu then acts as the binder which eliminates the need for flour, and the pie also does not require any “milk” at all.

For both types of pumpkin pie, I reduce the “sugar” amount substantially and use an alternative to refined white sugar – coconut sugar for the more traditional type of pumpkin pie and agave for the tofu pumpkin pie. Folks who have eaten my pies never say it’s not sweet enough and always comment on how the pumpkin flavor really shines.

Below are recipes for both versions.

Pumpkin Pie Recipes

Ingredients:

Pie crusts (click the link for tips on making Allergy Friendly Pie Crusts)

Version 1 Filling:

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin (canned works, too)

1/2 cup coconut sugar

2 tsp spices (I use a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves and/or cardamom)

I 1/2 cup plant based “milk” (I prefer to use flax or soy milk)

1/4 to 1/2 cup gluten free flour (use the lower amount for a more silky pie; the higher amount for a sturdier pie; I like to use millet or sorghum or GF oat flour to add some protein and fiber)

Version 2 Filling:

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin (canned works too)

1/2 cup agave (I like to use the maple flavor agave for this pie; if you can’t find it, you can mix 2 tbsp of maple syrup with enough agave to make 1/2 cup – this gives you the flavor but substantially reduces the amount of calories you’d get from using 1/2 cup of maple syrup)

2 tsp spices (I use a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves and/or cardamom)

16 oz silken tofu, pureed to be smooth and creamy

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare the pie crust and put into a 9.5 inch glass pie pan. Set aside.
  3. Choose which pumpkin pie filling to make, and mix all the ingredients until well blended.
  4. Pour into the prepared pie crust.
  5. Cover the edges of the pie crust with aluminium foil, leaving the center of the pie uncovered.
  6. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes until the pie is set and the center only jiggles a bit.
  7. Put into the fridge to completely cool. Best to cool overnight but at the very least, several hours. Without the eggs, the cooling is what solidifies the pie.