Tuesday, October 21, 2014

pumpkin cheesecake //gingersnap crust//pumpkin caramel


I've been totally slackin' on the blog posting. I've been making a lot of recipes but a lot of them needed tweaking.... This beauty of a recipe was one of them, and boyyyy oh boy its so worth the work I put into tweaking/perfecting it.

This time of year brings out the baker in me, and fall flavors constantly whiz through my mind. Every year, my signature dish I bring to thanksgiving is a Bon Appetit Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap crust and a sour cream marshmallow topping. This year, I wanted to do a snack size version that wouldn't be such a gut buster. 

Mission Accomplished! The bulk of the "cheesecake" is actually blended fat free cottage cheese.... and don't you dare be scared off by that! I HATE cottage cheese. The texture makes me wanna yak without even having to eat it. I recently started experimenting with blended cottage cheese, and it has transformed the ingredient for me. It lends an amazing smooth and rich element, without feeling heavy like cream cheese can. 

I recommend sweetening the cheesecake to taste, depending on which kind of sweetener/sugar you use. Just sweeten it to your liking before you add your eggs! I sweetened mainly with stevia, plus a small amount of coconut sugar and a bit of brown sugar. This recipe absolutely doesn't need the pumpkin caramel, but I couldn't pass up the pumpkin caramel I found it at Trader Joe's last week. If you do want to do a caramel on top, use any caramel sauce you like!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust and Trader Joe's Pumpkin Caramel

2 cups of gingersnap cookie crumbs (or cookie of your choice)
4 tablespoons coconut oil (or other neutral oil or butter)

8oz reduced fat cream cheese (I used Trader Joe's light organic whipped)
1 16oz container of cottage cheese ( I used Trader Joe's organic fat free)
1 cup organic canned pumpkin
1/4 cup organic coconut sugar 
2 tablespoons organic brown sugar
17 packets Pure Via stevia (equivilant to a little less than 3/4 cup sugar)
*if using just regular white and brown sugar, 1/2 cup each
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon organic unbleached white flour
2 eggs 
2 tablespoons egg whites (or another egg)

Line an 11x7 baking dish with foil, leaving a few inches hanging over so you can easily pull out cheesecake after baking. Grease the foil evenly with oil.

crust: Preheat oven to 350f. In a food processor, combine cookie crumbs and oil until evenly combined. Press mixture into greased pan, patting it until even. Bake for 12 minutes.

cheesecake: Reduce heat to 325f. In a food processor, blend cottage cheese until smooth, scraping sides until blended. Add cream cheese, pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, flour, and sugars. Sweeten to taste, then add eggs. Blend until even. Pour over crust*, bake for 45 minutes. Let cool completely, carefully lift the cheesecake out using the excess foil as a handle. Place in fridge for 30 minutes, cut into squares. Top with caramel sauce and coarse sea salt to taste. 
*I had some extra filling left over, so I put a gingersnap cookie at the bottom of a silicone muffin liner in a muffin pan, and poured leftover cheesecake filling on top (made 3 mini cheesecakes) and baked for 25 minutes. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

cardamom vanilla bean almond coconut butter

I've always wanted to make my own nut butters. My pantry is well stocked variety of flavored nut butters…. and for the most part I only buy the reasonably priced nut butters in the $3-$5 range. I have made exceptions in the past for intriguing flavors like Wild Friends vanilla espresso almond butter (so good!)...but as we are strapping down and putting a budget into place, spending $10-12 on a jar of almond butter is just silly. I have been eyeballing a Cardamom spiced Almond Butter at Natural Grocers lately, but this one is more like $14 for a very small jar, and I'm tired of being tempted by something that I can actually make at home, for way less, and probably make it taste better. 

I have attempted making peanut butter once before. I don't remember what I did, but it was definitely a big giant fail. While I was making this butta I thought it was a big fail again, and I wondered for a second if I had over processed my butta, so I went a googlin' and did some searching on ways you can screw up making nut butter. One way you can screw it up is adding liquid, like water or milk. I am prettttty sure that is where I went wrong on my failed peanut butter attempt…. 

Luckily, this was not the case with my almond butter. I had added some vanilla bean paste which made me wonder if there was a stabilizer in the paste that could have disrupted the nut butter process…. but that was not the case! Now this whole process took me almost a FREAKING HOUR. But I'm pretty sure it was my stupid (yeah I said it) Ninja blender. I can honestly say that buying a Ninja blender was one of the worst purchases I have ever made. For $100 it sure takes a LOT longer to do simple things-like blend greens into a smoothie- than my $25 Hamilton Beach blender used to. The design of the blades and the blender jug is really really really stupid. Okay, you get it, I hate my blender. My point is, according to every other blogger/recipe I have found, this process should only take like 10-20 minutes in a blender or food processor.  ***UPDATE: turns out, my Ninja doesn't suck as bad as I thought, I suck. The reason it took so long was because I added all of the other ingredients in with the nuts. The trick is to make the nut butter first! Then, add all the yummies. I made a hazelnut butter that took like 5 minutes. Lesson learned *slaps forehead.

Even though this took me an hour, it was so worth it. This butter reminds me of the rich gooey satisfaction of caramel. I drizzled a little bit over my steel cut oats this morning, it was fantastic. You could put this on pancakes, waffles, PB&J, brownies, ice cream, toast…. 

For anyone who isn't familiar with Cardamom, it's a beautiful earthy, warm, sweet floral spice that is commonly used in Indian sweets and drinks (like Chai!). I absolutely LOVE it, and it goes beautifully in this almond butta. I used coconut butter in this recipe, it gives a rich creamy depth to the butter that you don't want to miss! I think even if you don't like coconut, you will love this. There is no coconut texture, just a subtle coconut flavor. If you've never used, seen or heard of coconut butter, it's just like nut butters-but done with coconut. You absolutely can make your own coconut butter by processing shredded coconut, but I like to buy jarred coconut butter when it goes on sale (Natural Grocers has the best hotline specials!). I added coconut oil as well to help out my (stupid) blender, but you may find you don't need to. The trick to making your own nut butter is patience. Process, scrape the sides, process, scrape the sides, etc. It feels like a much longer process if you hover and watch the actual process. It goes through many stages and I thought it would never get out of this half-way-between-nut-and-butter stage (see photo below)! But it did! 

I am so pumped to try making different variations of my own nut butters! I did an approximate cost break down and this only cost me around $4 to make! Aw yeeee. Make you some nut butta, girls and boys.

Cardamom Vanilla Bean Almond Coconut Butter

2 heaping cups raw almonds
1/3 cup coconut butter
1.5-2 teaspoons cardamom (adjust to your taste!)
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean split and seeds scraped out (can also use vanilla extract, I just love the pure vanilla taste you get from the seeds)
1 tablespoon honey (agave would work too!)
1-2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar (any natural sweetener will work!)
stevia to taste (I used 6 packets of Pure Via stevia)
1-2 tablespoons melted coconut oil (optional-if you need to help your blending device out)

In a blender or food processor, blend/process almonds until smooth and creamy. Add in coconut oil if your blender/processor needs help blending. Add in remaining ingredients, blend until smooth, and feel free to taste as you go and add more or less sweetener or coconut butter than I did,  to your taste!