Raw Cashew Cheesecake

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As I sit here typing on my couch, I’m bouncing back and forth between reading emails and writing this blog post. I’ve just received a congratulatory email from wordpress because it seems I’ve had this blog for one whole year now! It’s been a productive year filled with fun, creativity, and self-expression. There are many more avenues I’d like to explore in this coming year, and as I’m realizing, it truly is possible to achieve what you set out for, once you get the ball rolling.  I included a quote in one of my earliest posts about the best way to get something down is to begin, and it couldn’t be more true. When I told everyone (via Facebook) that I had created a health food blog, I had one recipe posted and no real plans on the horizon. But that was okay, because announcing it was the catapult I needed in order to keep moving forward. I didn’t have any definitive plans, nor recipes up my sleeve, but the more energy I put into it, the more the ideas kept flowing. I have no idea what 2015 will bring for balanced bella, but I do know that if my excitement continues, so will my ideas and successes.

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On another note, I don’t often use this social media channel as a soapbox, but perhaps I’ll be allowed annually on my blog’s anniversary (no? okay, then just this once…) Few things upset me more than the idea of animals being caged, bullied, and used in a way that suggests they’ve experienced their fair share of pain and fear (circuses, zoos, aquariums, horse carriage rides, etc.), and for those who believe they’re just animals and don’t know any better – I suggest you just stop reading my blog and spend this time doing some much needed soul searching because I strongly believe that animals are far more intuitive than us and have much to teach us humans. So as I was saying…fewer things upset me more… Last week, I took my fourth grade class on a trip to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Rockettes, singers, dancers, and actors were amazing, unbelievably amazing; however, during the last ten minutes of the show, camels and sheep were brought on stage for the nativity scene, and it just didn’t make sense to me. It did not enhance the show in any way, only hindered what would have been a superb show. I couldn’t help wonder where these animals go/stay in between shows. I wrote a letter to Radio City but have yet to hear back from them…

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Thank you for letting me vent, and if you needed to skip over that last paragraph, so be it. I’m finished now. Let’s talk food. I’ve been wanting to create a cashew cheesecake for months now. I continuously buy raw cashews for this purpose, but find myself using them for different reasons because of a preconceived notion that this project would be difficult. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. On Saturday, I sat down and thought about what I had in my kitchen that could be created into a recipe and shared on my blog. We recently bought pomegranates and I thought they’d be a gorgeously festive food to photograph. Then I began wondering what I could make in order to use them. A salad? Nah. But then the idea of a cheesecake came to mind and I thought…well, I don’t have that much to do today. That idea was moot anyway, once I realized how simple it was.

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I added water to a bowl of cashews and left my house to go holiday shopping. I came home a few hours later and made the crust and filling.  A total of about 9 minutes. Then I put it in the freezer overnight. The amount of manual labor that went into this is laughable. It took me longer to photograph it than actually make it. And the best part…it’s completely raw, undeniably healthy, and unbelievably delectable.

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Ingredients:

Filling

  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
  • 7 Tbsp coconut oil (at room temperature – liquid state)
  • 7 Tbsp maple syrup
  • optional: pinch of salt
  • optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used this; If you don’t, then it will be completely raw.)

Crust

  • 3/4 cup packed dates, pits removed (about 10)
  • 1 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds

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Steps:

Filling

  1. In a bowl, add about two cups of water to the cashews, enough to cover, and set aside for 3-4 hours, or overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the cashews and place in the blender/food processor. Add in all other ingredients and blend until smooth.
  3. Pour filling onto crust and freeze for 3-4 hours, or overnight.
  4. Top with your favorite ingredients: slivered almonds, pomegranate, coconut, etc. I blended a cup of frozen berries with a splash of almond milk to make a sorbet spread!

Crust

  1. In a food processor or blender, add the pitted dates and nuts. Mix until they form a sticky substance.
  2. Place wax paper over a pie dish and place crust mixture on top, spreading it out using your fingers.

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Toasted Israeli Couscous

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Besides being unbelievably delicious, I love this recipe because of it’s versatility and interesting, yet simple, ingredients. It tastes just as good cold as it does warm, and it makes a nice main entree, or a delectable and aesthetically pleasing side dish. It was my first time making it, but it was always in my refrigerator growing up because my mom cooked a similar version quite often. I would never think to use a cinnamon stick in this, but the marriage of ingredients works so well it’s just plain silly.  And with the addition of chewy craisins and an extra crunch from the almonds, this dish went straight to the top of my must-make-for-my-next-party list.  Right after I made it, I put some in a container and hid it in the back of the refrigerator, away from Justin’s line of vision, so I could bring it to lunch today. Mission successful.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp butter of your choice (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup Israeli pearl couscous
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth or water (I used water because I didn’t have broth)
  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 small leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup dried craisins
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (plus more for garnishing)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped basil
  • 2 Tbsp orange zest

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Steps:

  1. In a large pan (with a matching top for later), melt the butter on medium low heat.
  2. Once melted, bring up to medium heat and add shallots and salt.  Saute until golden brown.
  3. Add in the couscous and saute for another couple of minutes until the couscous is golden brown.
  4. Add in the broth/water, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick.
  5. Bring mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  6. While the couscous is cooking, place the almonds in a small pan on medium heat and toast for 3-4 minutes, stirring every half minute. (Or you can do what I did and leave the almonds to burn while you run to the backyard to pick some basil, but I don’t suggest that.)
  7. Chop the basil and zest the orange.
  8. When the couscous is finished, remove and discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Place in a large bowl and toss in the basil, orange zest, and craisins. Enjoy hot or cold!

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Banana Bon-Bons

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Peggy Bundy would be proud. I’ve envisioned making these for the past few months. Like when I was proctoring the state tests and couldn’t do much more than stare out the window, or when I was sitting on the lifeguard chair staring at the ocean and thinking about the exact ingredients I would use and if everything would stick together like they did in my mind – they did by the way. Yea, I know I sound like a huge food geek. And although I had every intention of creating a delicious dinner and writing about that, I just couldn’t resist trying these out, and when I did, well I obviously had to change my plans a tad…
The richness of the cacao and the nutty flavor of the almonds brings out the sweet flavor of banana – which tastes about three hundred times better when it’s frozen, making it creamy and refreshing on these humid June days in New York. Ingredients (makes about 8 bon-bons):

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  • 1/2 ripened banana
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
  • 2 Tbsp cacao powder*
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup

*I recently ran out of cacao powder and bought a different brand at Whole Foods on a whim. This new powder is a lot less strong and I need a lot more to achieve the same taste. So, depending on the cacao powder you have, try one half to one whole tablespoon and taste the mixture to see if it’s enough. I usually order Healthworks brand on Amazon and absolutely love it.

Steps:

  1. Dice one half banana into 1/4 inch coins.
  2. Place on a plate in a single layer – do not pile on top of each other.
  3. For easier handling, freeze for about thirty minutes.
  4. In a blender, mix almonds, coconut, and cacao powder.
  5. Pour into a bowl and add the maple syrup, mix well.
  6. Cover each banana piece and shape into a ball; do not pile covered bananas on top of one another.
  7. For best results, freeze for at least one hour, but best after two hours.

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