Naturally Dyed Vegan Cheesecake (Sugar Free!)

 
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If any of you are following me on Instagram, you might know that I embarked on a 30 day no sugar challenge for the month of April. This means that I decided to avoid all types of added sugars including white sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, raw cane sugar, agave, honey, stevia and maple syrup. The first 7 sugars were not that hard to eliminate since I do not regularly cook with any of them. Maple syrup on the other hand... ouff! That was more of a challenge! It is the main sweetener I use in all my baking. I also absolutely love using it to caramelize fruits - caramelized bananas, pears and apples are my absolute favorite oatmeal toppings.

For the first couple of days of this challenge, I found myself really craving cookies, granola, my usual pancakes and all types of sweet baked goods. I started to brainstorm on how I could naturally add sweetness to my favorite baked goods. The most obvious replacement was: DATES! Dates are amazing, because not only are they naturally sweet and incredibly tasty, but unlike other sweeteners, they contain fiber, which we know is beneficial for our digestion and reduces LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). Dates are also packed with vitamins (B, A, K & C) and minerals (magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper & more). They are pretty much a super fruit as we like to call them ;)

So I started experimenting with incorporating dates in some of my go to dishes. I made a date sweetened granola (still working on perfecting the recipe but it will be up on the blog soon!)! I also made pancakes using a couple of dates as the sweetener, by blending them up with almond butter and almond milk and then incorporating them with my dry ingredients. I topped those pancakes with a sugar-free berry compote and it was super tasty, satisfying and sweetened to perfection.

Because I was so impressed by how good these pancakes came out, I decided to challenge myself even more and create a completely sugar free vegan cheesecake. I had never made one before and never read a recipe online that did not use maple syrup in the cheesecake filling, so I thought, why not create it myself?

As I was brainstorming on the flavour profile of this vegan sugar free cheesecake, I thought I could use some of the products sent to me by Matcha.Blue to add some color to my dessert. Matcha.Blue has all sorts of colorful powders like premium organic blue, pink and red matcha, blueberry powder, beetroot powder, raspberry powder, and Hawaiian green spirulina to name a few. For this recipe, I wanted to create a dreamy, pastel cheesecake so the blue matcha and blueberry powder seemed like the perfect add-ins for this cheesecake.

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I also wanted to add a more burned caramel flavour to this cheesecake, which I thought would pair beautifully with the walnut-date base. Therefore, I opted for maca powder to flavour some of my cheesecake filling.

Just a note on the level of sweetness of this cake. On its own, the filling is not as sweet as some of the fillings I have tasted in the past, because I chose to use only 3 dates so that their brown color would not affect the color of my cheesecake, making it harder to dye with the blue matcha and blueberry powder. However, because of the crust that is made with dates and walnuts, I found that it was not necessary to add more dates to the filling. I would recommend tasting the filling by itself before pouring it on the base and adjusting the sweetness to your personal liking.

Finally, if you don’t have blue matcha or blueberry powder on hand, you can totally omit them and only use maca powder. Another option would be to dye your cheesecake using turmeric powder or a touch of spirulina (beware to not put too much spirulina as it has a strong flavour!).

This cheesecake was truly a lot of fun to create! I loved seeing the beautiful colors come to life and was so excited to realize that I was actually able to create a super creamy, rich and decadent cheesecake without any processed sugar! Maybe I will go an extra month without sugar...or maybe not ;)

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INGREDIENTS

Cheesecake Base
3/4 cup dates*
1 cup walnuts
Pinch of salt

Cheesecake Filling
1 cup cashews soaked in boiling water for 1 hour, drained
2/3 cup coconut milk
1/8 cup melted coconut oil
3 dates*
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp maca powder
1 1/2 tsp Matcha Blue powder, diluted in 1 tsp of warm water
1 1/2 tsp Blueberry powder, diluted in 1 tsp of warm water

Garnishes
Frozen or fresh blueberries
Date-walnut energy balls (read below)
Hemp heart

*If your dates are hard, soak them in hot water for 30 minutes then drain and use them as directed.

INSTRUCTIONS

For the base:

  1. Line the bottom of a 7 inch spring form pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, add dates, walnuts and salt. Process until a sticky dough forms. Measure 1/4 cup of the mixture, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  3. Transfer the rest of the mixture into the prepared spring form pan. Using your hands, press the walnut date crust evenly along the bottom of the pan. Transfer to the freezer.

For the cheesecake:

  1. Add cashews, coconut milk, coconut oil, dates and lemon juice to a high speed blended and process until silky smooth, adding more coconut milk if needed to blend smoothly.
  2. Divide the filling between 3 bowls.
  3. To one bowl, add some maca powder. Stir. Taste and add more powder if you want a stronger maca flavour.
  4. To another bowl, add some blue matcha. Stir. Add more powder (diluted in a touch of water) if you want a more intense color.
  5. To the last bowl, add blueberry powder. Stir. Add more powder (diluted in a touch of water) if you want a deeper purple color.
  6. Pour all 3 fillings into the crust. Swirl using a butter knife to create a beautiful pattern. Cover with a plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
  7. The next day, remove cheesecake from the freezer. Let sit on the counter for 10 minutes, remove from the pan and set on a serving plate. Let unthaw for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Form mini balls with the remaining date-walnut mixture.
  9. Decorate your cake with fresh berries, date-walnut balls and hemp hearts.

Enjoy!

Naturally Dyed Vegan Cheesecake (Sugar Free!)
 

Fresh Spring Sandwich with Tempeh Bacon, Arugula and Broccoli Sprouts

Who else is ecstatic that we are now in spring?! 

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I am so excited to start swapping my winter boots with lighter footwear, to put away my big jacket and to reconnect with my beloved spring coat. Because it is getting warmer, I have also been starting to crave colder dishes: salads, smoothie bowls, chia puddings... I tend to get extremely cold in the winter – working from home, I am almost always rocking big cozy slippers and a minimum of two layers! That is why, from December to March, though I sip on smoothies and occasionally munch on salads, most of the time I opt for foods like porridge, pancakes, soups, stews, curries, lasagnas...

However, when spring comes around, I am excited to be trading these comforting dishes for fresher ones. Some of my favorite spring ingredients include:

  • Asparagus: I just roast them in the oven at 200ºC for about 15 minutes until bright green, sprinkle them with some salt and coarse ground pepper and drizzle them with a touch of lemon juice and - BOOM, you’ve got yourself the best spring side dish EVER!
  • Arugula: Probably my favorite leafy green. I absolutely love its peppery taste and very bright flavour. It pairs beautifully with pears (yes... I went there, but it is true!). It is also delicious walnuts, cucumbers and olives.
  • Beets: Beets have always been one of the vegetables that I love adding to smoothies. You can incorporate steamed beets to your classic berry smoothie for a sweeter flavour or keep them raw and blend them with strawberries, ginger and blood oranges for a spicy and tangy antioxidant boost.
  • Kiwis: I used to get a tingly sensation on my tongue after eating kiwis, but thankfully, with age, it completely vanished. Now I eat kiwis regularly. I love making a bowl of creamy coconut milk overnight oats and topping it with kiwi and mango chunks as well as a few tablespoons of toasted coconut flakes – instantly, I feel like I have traveled to a tropical paradise.
  • Radishes: Fun fact! I discovered radishes last summer when my mom grew them in her garden. I find that their spiciness and crisp texture can add a ton of flavour to any salad, sandwich or vegetable bowl.

Now to the inspiration behind this recipe...

Recently, I collaborated with Simple Mills to create a Smashed Chickpea and Sprouts Sandwich. The mix of creamy smashed chickpeas with the brightness of the arugula and sprouts was truly a home-run.

The creation of this recipe really got me on a sandwich spree! The last time I probably had so many sandwiches in a week was in high school when they were my preferred lunch item. Ever since, I haven’t had that many sandwiches (of course if you exclude burgers – because I have had plenty of those in the last 7 years!).

Last week, as I was shooting some content for my Instagram and blog, I made the following sandwich for lunch and it turned out so good, that I decided to recreate it, photograph it and share it with you.

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It is rather simple to put together and as with many of my recipes, feel free to swap out any ingredients you do not like or do not have on hand. Here are some other add ins that would be super tasty in this recipe:

  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • Pesto
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Red onion
  • Fresh parsley
  • Fresh coriander
  • Dill
  • Dijon mustard
  • Smoked tofu
  • Hot sauce
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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 slices of whole grain bread
  • 2 tbsp hummus (my favorite is this Fontaine Santé’s Greek Olives Hummus)
  • 1 baby cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 an avocado, sliced
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Tempeh bacon (make it yourself or buy ready made – I love this brand)
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • Small handful of sprouts (my favorite are broccoli sprouts)
  • Small handful of arugula

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Toast your slices of bread while you prepare your ingredients.
  2. Spread 1 tablespoon of hummus onto each slice of bread.
  3. Top one slice of bread with cucumber, avocado, pepper, tempeh, radishes, sprouts and arugula.
  4. Cover with the second slice of bread and enjoy.

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Fresh Spring Sandwich with Tempeh Bacon
 

A Week in Pucallpa with the Pure Art Foundation

At the beginning of the month, I had the incredible privilege to travel to Peru with the Pure Art Foundation for a humanitarian trip.

The Pure Art Foundation, created by two inspiring human beings, Robert and Brigitte McKinnon, is a Canadian organization that has as a mission to alleviate poverty and improve the life of marginalized communities in the countries in which it operates: Peru, Tanzania and Nepal.

The three pillars of the foundation are: HEALTH | SHELTER | EDUCATION

Its programs include:

  • One School for All – an education sponsorship program for children in Pucallpa, Peru
  • CAST Initiative – Construct A Structure Today, which consists of building safe homes for families in Pucallpa
  • Health to Offer – which provides clean and safe drinking water for families in Pucallpa
  • Sewing Initiative – a skill development and entrepreneurship program that empowers women to become self-sufficient through skilled handiwork

To learn more about the Pure Art Foundation programs, click here.

Every year, in the context of the CAST Initiative, the foundation along with a group of volunteers travel to Pucallpa, Peru to build homes for two local families.

Last year was the first time I traveled to Pucallpa with the foundation and it was truly one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I was so surprised that, the moment all the volunteers got off the bus to get started on building the homes, all the children ran directly towards us, jumping on our backs, giving us hugs, laughing and smiling like we had all shared special moments with them in the past.

A few photos taken in Pucallpa last year.

For the whole week I was there, I got to connect with many children, despite my very basic Spanish. They told me about their moms and siblings, about their experiences with school and about their lives in Pucallpa. Regardless of the difficulties these children face on a daily basis, their joy for life poured through them.  

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After my experience last year, when I got the opportunity to go back to Pucallpa this year, I was incredibly excited!

After our 20-hour transit time – which included 2 portions of fries and a few hours of sleep on the benches of the Lima airport – we arrived in Pucallpa. Almost immediately upon our arrival, we were hopping on motorcars and making our way to the Pure Art Hub of Hope.

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Traveling through the streets of Pucallpa, it felt like I had left it only a few weeks ago. Not many things had changed: streets were buzzing with activity, markets were attended by all locals, stray dogs were sleeping on the sidewalks and food stands were still selling the local delicacies: juices, cancha (puffed corn), quail eggs, large kernel corn ...

When we arrived on the site, met the other volunteers and saw the children for the first time in a year, I felt like I had come back to a sacred place. Just like the previous year, the children were quick to jump on our backs and shoulders, to organize races and to reconnect with us. My heart was filled with so much joy to see these beautiful familiar faces and their heart-warming smiles.

Throughout the past year, I would look at photos of the children I had taken the year before, wishing I could hug them once again and here I was: surrounded by these loving and joyful souls.

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During our stay in Pucallpa, the volunteers were divided in three groups: 2 to build the two houses for the local families, and one to lay the foundation and paint the new daycare.

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On our third day in Pucallpa, we got to witness the school registration process of the children for the new school year. All the children we had played with during the day had put on their pressed uniforms and looked so proud to be attending this registration, which was coordinated by the Pure Art Foundation's One School for All Initiative. What is absolutely amazing is that to this day, the initiative supports over 300 children, providing them with shoes, uniforms and school supplies! If you want to learn more about the One School for All Initiative, click here.

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For me, this week in Pucallpa, was marked by many things, including the amazing dedication of all the volunteers to help in the construction of homes for the local families. Moreover, I will forever cherish the hours spent with the children of Pucallpa playing tag, ninja, hand-clapping games and racing until our legs could not race anymore.

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Every time I have been to Peru, I get to observe with admiration the amazing work of Robert and Brigitte McKinnon along with that of the sisters and missionaries that are on the field, helping hundreds of families through the Foundation’s various programs. The devotion of all the people involved in the foundation reminds me that there is so much good in this world and there are people actively working every day to help bettering the lives of human beings around the globe.

Thank you for all the work you do!

 

Chocolate Kamut Snack Bars

Three recipes in a row using chocolate...?!

Yes, I know, it might be a bit much, but I am a chocolate lover at heart! Also, we are still in February. So technically, National Chocolate month is not over yet, which means I can guiltlessly create and indulge in all the chocolate delights in the world!

For this recipe, I wanted to go back to a childhood classic: Rice Krispies squares. Surprisingly, as a child, I wasn’t the biggest Rice Krispies fan. I always found they tasted a bit bland and were not particularly original. I much preferred indulging in chocolate bars or pop tarts (if you haven’t read my post about my favorite childhood classics, click here).

However, a few weeks ago, I bought a bag of puffed kamut thinking I could create a vegan friendly and modernized version of the Rice Crispies treat.

The result: these crispy, chocolaty, chewy and nutty bars. They are made with whole grain puffed cereals, almond butter, maple syrup, cacao powder and coconut oil.

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What I love the most about this recipe is the fact that you can make it in under 30 minutes and can play around with the base ingredients.

For example, you can use any type of puffed cereal: brown rice, millet, amaranth or quinoa. You can even swap out a cup of cereal with your favorite nuts. If you do not have maple syrup on hand, just swap it with honey, brown rice syrup or agave. The almond butter can be replaced by peanut butter or cashew butter for an even richer dessert.  Lastly, the dark chocolate layer and the additional toppings are totally optional (although recommended!).

So don’t wait any longer, just try this recipe, get creative by making it your own and let me know how you find it in the comments or by tagging me in your creations on social media @muriellebanackissa.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 heaping cups puffed kamut
  • 1/4 cup cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Toppings (optional)

  • 1 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp hemp hearts

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Line a 8x8 pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add kamut puffs, cacao powder and salt. Mix and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, add almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  4. When homogeneous, pour over the kamut puffs. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the cereals are well coated.
  5. Transfer to the prepared pan. Spread and evenly distribute, pressing down using your spatula.
  6. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to set.
  7. In the meantime, melt chocolate with coconut oil over a double boiler.
  8. Pour over the bars. Garnish with pumpkin seeds and hemp hearts.
  9. Place back in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cut into squares or bars. Enjoy!
  10. Keep in the fridge or freezer.

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Chocolate Kamut Snack Bars
 

Cherry Cashew Truffles

Cherry cashew truffles because... It is national CHERRY month!

And I have to say cherries are one of those fruits that I cannot eat enough of. When the warm months come around and the cherries start appearing on the shelves of grocery stores, I get so excited! To me, cherries are the fruit equivalent of chocolate. They have a candy like quality that I just LOVE – their perfect sweetness, their little tang and their juiciness make them an awesome snack.

As the temperature begins to drop here in Montreal, sadly the cherries slowly start to disappear from grocery stores so I tend to switch them out for berries which are available pretty much all year long.

However, this year, my craving for cherries was satisfied earlier than usual. I received a bag of freeze dried Just Cherries from Karen’s Naturals. Their cherries do not contain any additives, preservatives, added sweeteners and GMOs, and are gluten free!

If you were wondering how you freeze dry cherries, the process is rather simple. Cherries are flash frozen, then are placed in a vacuum-like chamber that slowly heats them while extracting all their moisture. The result is a crunchy, sweet and tart dried cherry.

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Because of their beautiful flavour profile, I thought these dried cherries would be the perfect base for a truffle. Plus, it was perfect timing since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and we all know that cherries + chocolate is a match made in heaven!

By combining Karen’s Natural Just Cherries with cashews, hemp hearts, almond butter and dates, the truffles instantly become deliciously rich and decadent. Cover them in chocolate and you just found yourself with an exquisite flavour bomb.

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When I created this recipe, I made my boyfriend try a truffle and he immediately said, “Woah! What is in this? It’s soooo good!” I have made multiple variations of truffles over the past 5 and a half years and he has tasted the majority of them. Therefore, for him to say that and to go for 2 extra truffles immediately, I knew this recipe was a keeper.

These truffles are perfect to give as an edible gift to your loved ones; they are also a lovely dessert to indulge in on a Friday night as a treat after a long week of work.

Enough said.

I think you need these little chocolate covered red gems in your life right now. Just a warning, it will be very hard to eat only one truffle at a time...

P.S. Head over to Karen's Natural's website, they are now offering 10% off their freeze dried cherries!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bag Karen’s Naturals Just Cherries
  • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews
  • 2 tbsp hemp hearts
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp almond butter
  • 1/3 cup packed medjool dates
  • 100g dark chocolate (60% or higher), chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Reserve two tablespoons of Karen’s Naturals Just Cherries.
  2. In a food processor, process the rest of Karen’s Naturals Just Cherries until a powder is formed.
  3. Add cashews, hemp hearts and salt and process until a coarse sand texture is achieved.
  4. Add almond butter and dates and process until sticky. If the mixture is not sticking together, add almond butter, one teaspoon at a time, processing between additions.
  5. Scoop out tablespoon amounts of the mixture and carefully form into balls using your hands. Set on a parchment-lined large plate. There should be about 12 to 14 truffles. Place in the fridge to set for 15 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, using a double boiler, melt dark chocolate.
  7. Using a mortar and pestle or your food processor, pulse the remaining 2 tablespoons of dried cherries a few times. Set aside.
  8. Once the chocolate has melted, remove the truffles from the fridge. Drop the truffles, one at a time, in the melted chocolate.
  9. Using a fork, remove from the chocolate, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Carefully place back on the parchment-lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the truffles.
  10. Top each truffle with the crushed cherries and transfer to the fridge until the chocolate has set completely.

Note: Before rolling into balls, taste the mixture and if you prefer your truffles to be on the sweeter side, add an additional date. Process once more.

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Cherry Cashew Truflles