No-Bake Vegan "Cheesecake"

Zoodles or courgetti (which one do you call it?) just don't cut it for me. If I'm craving pasta, my body's asking for a hearty helping of some downright carbs. Spiralized zucchini just isn't going to magically turn into that. Sorry to all you devoted fans out there. There's nothing wrong with zoodles, but they're just not pasta. At least not to me!
Why am I randomly blabbering about pasta, you ask? Well because I like to keep it real. Just like with these "cheesecakes". There's no doubt these are a fantastic afternoon snack or post-dinner dessert you can eat on the daily, but they're not cheesecake and I won't pretend they are. If you're interested in this recipe, I'm guessing you most probably know this already, but thought I'd warn you just in case.

What they are is a lightly sweet, raw-treat that's smooth and dreamy and definitely reminiscent of a cheesecake type of dessert. But not cheesecake. They're easily customizable, conveniently-sized and downright delicious. I went with three flavors - plain, raspberry and peanut butter, but I can only imagine that flavors like chocolate, lime, blueberry, strawberry and coconut would be equally delicious.   

The "crust" is the classic health-food-trend base of dates and nuts (walnuts were my choice) and the filling is one made from blended cashews, coconut oil and lots of other feel-good goodness. The blended cashews as a filling is definitely not something new - I always thought of trying it but never really got around to it. Better late than never, hey? I was so pleasantly surprised! The filling is so luscious, creamy and aromatic right when it's blended that it'll take a lot of self-control to stop yourself from literally spooning the mixture right out of the blender jar straight into your mouth (I won't tell if you do this). A spoon, or few, is necessary as a taste test anyways...right? The subtle sweetness of the maple syrup perfectly complements the tangy lemon flavor (hello cheesecake). The trick to getting a nice a smooth filling is soaking your cashews for long enough. I suggest overnight, but if you forgot/hadn't planned for this, a few hours in some boiling water will do it.

If you're used to raw/healthy/nut-based/naturally-sweetened treats, you'll love this. If not, give it a go and let me know what you think. You'll never know if you don't try!

This recipe is adapted from Minimalist Baker's 7-Ingredient Vegan Cheesecakes.

Makes 10-12 standard muffin-cup sized mini cheesecakes (or one larger 9-inch cheesecake)
For the crust:
1 cup pitted gooey dates
1 cup raw walnuts (pecans or almonds can be substituted)
pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight or in boiling water for a few hours
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut milk, preferably the thick creamy part that forms on top
Optional add ins: peanut butter, raspberry jam

Bring out your standard muffin tin and set aside.

Add walnuts to a food processor/high speed blender and blitz into small chunks. Don't process it into a powder unless you don't want any chunks of nuts in the base  - I like the crunch so I keep it quite chunky! Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same machine, process the dates until a sticky paste/ball is formed. Pour walnut bits back in, along with the salt, and process again. The mixture should come together quickly and be sticky enough to roll balls, but not so sticky that it sticks to your fingers. Add more dates or walnuts to get to the right consistency. 

Cut thin strips of parchment paper and lay them in each muffin cup to make it easier to pull out the cheesecakes later (make sure about an inch sticks up on either side).

Take small amounts of the crust mixture and press it into each muffin cup. There's no exact science here - mine ended up being between a half and one centimeter thick. Just use your fingers to gently press down. Place in the freezer to set while you prepare the filling.

Blend all the filling ingredients together until a very smooth, silky, almost velvety mixture is formed.

Take the crusts out of the freezer and pour spoonfuls of the filling onto each crust. If using optional flavorings, swirl small spoonfuls of your chosen add-in into the filling.

Place in the freezer to set completely. To serve, either eat them straight from the freezer (cold is always my chosen preference) or remove 5 minutes before serving for a softer, more cheesecake like texture.



Mocha Oat Cookies

Cookies always seem to do the trick. At breakfast, mid-morning, post-lunch, at tea time, after dinner or when the midnight munchies hit, cookies seem to come to the rescue.
Sorry quick tangent. As I'm typing this blog post, I'm noshing on a perfectly ripe banana sliced up and topped with melted peanut butter and dark chocolate spread. Not sure why I haven't tried this before - such a great snack! Highly recommended. Also just realized that this could mistakenly come across as I haven't had bananas with pb or chocolate before. Definitely not true. I'm pretty sure I eat all three on a daily basis and bananas and pb often feature together.

Back to the cookie loving. Or should I be hating? The fact that they're so easy to make and eat is pretty dangerous... But at least when they're filled with good things like oats, dark chocolate (healthy in moderation) and coffee (likewise), you can feel good about eating them, right? Please say yes.
The coffee flavor isn't overpowering. It's almost as though - yes this is going to sound weird and manipulative, but just trust me here - you can taste the coffee undertones if you want to, but if not, all the coffee does is intensify the flavor of the chocolate. And who doesn't want that? Give me all the chocolate.

The texture of the cookies can't be beat. They're wonderfully crunchy and perfectly gooey right around the puddles of melty chocolate chips. You'll wonder where the lovely crunch comes from only to remember that the secret lies in using oat flour to make these cookies. Don't worry if your oat flour isn't perfectly ground into a fine powder. There's almost a beauty to the tiny specks of oat bits peppered through these chocolate-y cookies. They bake up just perfectly - slightly sticky/crispy on the outside and chewy and gooey on the inside. They're almost like a brookie (fudgy brownie cookie!).

Makes 15 large cookies
2 1/4 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup unrefined sugar
3 tsp instant coffee
2 eggs
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 175 C and line a large cookie baking tray with baking paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the oat flour, salt, baking powder, cocoa, sugar and instant coffee.

In a separate small bowl or cup, briefly mix together the the coconut oil and eggs. They probably wont mix that well, but don't worry as all you need to make sure to do is break the yolks to make for more even mixing later.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Mix until just combined.

Gently fold in the dark chocolate chips.

Use your hands to roll the dough into 15 evenly sized balls. They won't be perfect as the dough is likely to be slightly sticky, but this is intended so keep going!

Place the balls on the prepared cookie sheet. Press down slightly for a flatter cookie (I did this) or leave as is for chunkier/thicker cookies. Leave some space between the cookies because they do tend to spread.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until just firm to the touch. Cool in tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Don't wait - just eat. And enjoy!


Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

Does anyone else get really annoyed by traffic and delays? I just can't stand them. It's weird. I'm generally a pretty patient person, I take life pretty easily and barely find myself rushing to get somewhere. But there's something about traffic and delays that simply ticks me off. If I'm going to be stuck in traffic for hours, I'd rather get out of the car and walk for the same amount of time. Sounds silly, I know. But being stuck in one place - can't handle it. As long as I'm moving, I'm happy.
And don't get me started on flight delays. Especially the kind where they make you board the plane only to tell you that you'll be departing in X hours. In case you haven't already guessed, this is exactly what happened to me this morning. Thankfully, I was surrounded by my fam, which made the aimless (but not really) waiting much more bearable.

Mini rant of the day done and dusted. Moving on the the food. And not just anything - CHOCOLATE! I hope you all had your share of chocolate goodness on Easter, whether you celebrate or not, because chocolate is never a bad idea. I had a pain au chocolate, chocolate chip swirl, chocolate Easter eggs, hot chocolate, chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. FYI, that's just half the sugar I had on Easter day - the rest included tiramisu, stroopwafels and a few tidbits more. #sugaraddict and #noshame
On the theme of chocolate, I present to you dark chocolate cherry granola - an idea presented to me by my sister. This is a major shocker, by the way. She likes most of the things I bake, but rarely every requests me to make something specific (other than this banana bread and these orange chocolate scones). We always make our own granola at home, but it's a cinnamon vanilla variety chock full of nuts and seeds (hopefully I'll be posting a recipe soon!). She steers clear of nuts and seeds, and hence definitely doesn't touch the granola.

But chocolate and cherries? That she was more-than-willing to try. And who am I to say no to a baking request? I based the recipe off my traditional variety, but made a few adjustments to make it work for this one.

What did it yield? A rich, chocolately, barely sweet, clustery granola filled with dark chocolate chunks and dried cherries. Chocolate for breakfast? Why not! It's wonderful with milk, fruit yogurt, on smoothie bowls or simply by the fistful. Try it. You'll regret it if you don't!
2 1/2 cups whole rolled oats
pinch of salt
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks
*feel free to up the quantities of cherries and chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 155 C. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon.

Add the honey and coconut oil and mix well. The mixture will be sticky.

Spread the oat mixture on the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, watch carefully as each oven has its own quirks and you don't want to end up with burnt granola! Likewise, you may need to keep it for a little longer. Your house will smell like the most delicious chocolate cake is baking.

Remove from oven and let cool completely. The oats will still be soft when you pull them out, but will crisp up in a matter of 10 minutes!

Once completely cooled, stir in the cherries and chocolate chunks.

Store in an airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 3 weeks, but trust me, it won't last that long! Enjoy!


Classic Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Life tip of the day. If something's going well, there's no need to revamp it. Looking for improvements is always great, but don't go and rewrite it if it works!
Why am I expressing this today, you ask? Other than the fact that it is so true, it's because this is the tale of this banana bread. It's often recipes like this one that I tend to overlook because I've been making it for almost ten years now. Every time I make this banana bread, it's delicious, never goes wrong and yet I felt it too commonplace to share simply because I make it so often and have been doing so for so long... But then last evening after a fresh batch came out of the oven, beautifully crusted on the outside and gorgeously fluffy and steamy inside, I realized that it was time I post a recipe. Dare I say, it just may be my family's favorite recipe. It's made every week at home and despite all the other exciting (or I hope!) treats I whip up, this is always the first to go. 

The main culprit: my sister. She's head-over-heels obsessed with this banana bread with chocolate chips. Read: the chocolate chips are essential. Not optional. 
If the rest of us had it our way, we'd definitely throw in a handful of chopped, toasted walnuts. The nuttiness and crunch is irreplaceable. But (if you've read another post or few) you'd know that the sis and nuts don't get along too well. So I restrain. You won't miss them, but equally, feel free to throw in a few if you so wish!

While this is baking, I can assure that you'll be not-so-patiently waiting by your oven until it's ready. It smells absolutely delightful with a fragrant sweetness of banana and undertones of dark chocolate. Is there anything better? I think not.

Also, another quick tip for the day. I'm usually one to avoid the end slices of loaf cakes and head straight for a large center slice, but with this one, I strongly urge you to fight over the end slices. The sweet crust just can't be beat. 

So come on, grab those ripe bananas on your countertop, take fifteen minutes out of your day and get baking!

PS. The sun is shining so brightly this morning in London - it makes me one happy gal!

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup baby oats
pinch of salt 
3/4 cup unrefined sugar
3 tbsp coconut oil (softened) + 3 tbsp coconut oil (melted), divided
2 eggs
3 ripe-overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp milk
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Line a loaf baking pan with with baking paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together softened coconut oil and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and beat again until light and well combined. Stir in the mashed bananas, vanilla and melted coconut oil.

Sift in the flour and salt. Add the oats. Lightly mix all ingredients until just combined.

In a mug, add the baking soda to the milk and add this to the batter.

Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is well-risen, golden brown, crusty and a toothpick inserted comes out just clean.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool further.

Cut yourself a thick (end!) slice and enjoy!