Chocolate Chip Yogurt Cheesecake

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Craving a lighter cheesecake with fewer calories? Or maybe something that has fewer ingredients and less work? You’ve come to the right place. –And so did the other 10 people that were at my house the evening I made this!

I’ve been waiting a long time to post this recipe. I wanted to wait until summer though, because this is a lighter cheesecake, and paired with some delicious summer fruit, you have yourself a fabulous dessert to serve your guests. Or just yourself. I won’t judge.

The caramel on this cheesecake is amazing. And it doesn’t harden. Please don’t skip the caramel! DON’T DO IT! Recipe can be found here. 

And if you do decided to skip the caramel (which you wont, right?), make sure to make a water bath for your cheesecake to bake in to prevent cracks.

 

Chocolate Chip Yogurt Cheesecake
Yeild: 8 slices

 

Ingredients: 

Crust:
2 cups lady finger crumbs (I just put some lady fingers in a ziplock bag and smashed them with a rolling pin. Food processor works well too)
1 tbs sugar
1/2 light butter, melted

Batter:
2 blocks of cream cheese, softened (light cream cheese may be used)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Fage Greek)
2 eggs
1 vanilla bean pod, opened and scraped
1/2 cup sugar OR 1/3 cup Truvia (or sugar substitute)

1 batch of caramel sauce
Directions:

For crust: Mix all ingredients together and spread evenly into the bottom of a spring-form pan.

For Batter: In a mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add sugar or sugar substitute and mix well. Incorporate yogurt and vanilla bean. Lastly, add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one gets mixed in well. Pour batter into pan, over the crust. Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes or until no longer jiggles. Don’t worry about cracks, because it will be topped with caramel sauce. If you are skipping the caramel sauce, I recommend you make a water bath. Directions can be found here.

Romanian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (sarmale)

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In the Romanian community, this is usually made once per week. Cabbage rolls are a staple for us. We make them for holidays and we usually make them a day or two in advance to serve on Sundays; as most christian Romanians don’t cook on Sundays.

This is a comforting dish that brings back so many childhood memories. My grandmothers would make cabbage rolls by the hundred with homemade bread alongside, and then call over my family and all of my aunts and uncles to their house to feast. All of my cousins, my sisters and I would get together, sit at the “kids table” and laugh while we ate. Now that most of us are grown up and scattered all over the country, we still have these memories to hang on to.
The visits to our grandparents’ house,
the worry-free diets,
the Sundays after church when we would meet up and not have a care in the world about homework.
The days we were all together.
The “cabbage roll” days. : )

There are so many variations of this dish. My mom makes it differently than I do. She makes it differently than her own mother, too. I guess you can say that upon getting married, we changed the recipe to make it to the liking of our own families. But I did, however, try to keep it as authentic as possible. I get lots of compliments on my sarmale. On all my 10 versions of it! But here is the one my own family loves best:

Romanian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Yield: About 25 sarmale <-So call your friends over!

Ingredients:

2 large medium onions, chopped

1 large head cabbage

1 1/2 lbs ground pork (any ground meat works. I love ground chicken mixed with pork)

3 slices bacon, chopped

2-3 tbs mild oil (Such as canola or vegetable. Not olive oil)

2 tbs paprika

2 tbs Vegeta seasoning

1/2 tsp pepper

1 cup cooked or partially cooked white rice (not par-boiled from store)

2 tsp fresh dill

1 can tomatoes in sauce (I use San Marzano)

1 ham hock

4-8 oz sauerkraut

 
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Directions: 

  1. Cut a small square around the core of the top of the cabbage, so that it will be easier to peel off.
  2. Simmer a large pot of water on the stove, add entire head of cabbage.
  3. Carefully peel each leaf as it unravels from the head of the cabbage. Be careful, the water is hot. You may need to use tongs and other utensils.
  4. When most leaves have been peeled off, and you get the larger ones, you are done. Set aside aside to cool. You don’t need the small inside leaves.
  5. In the meantime, saute onion in oil on medium heat until translucent.
  6. Add paprika and stir well.
  7. Add to a large mixing bowl and set aside until cooled enough to handle.
  8. Add ground meat, rice, bacon and all seasonings and dill to the bowl of onions. Mix well.
  9. Take a cabbage leaf, and depending on the size, spoon about 2 tbs into each one. Roll like a burrito. Tucking in the sides. If some squirts out, it’s okay. Just use less filling in the next one.
  10. Roll until you run out of mixture.
  11. When all cabbage leaves are filled and rolled, prepare your crockpot or a large heavy bottom pot, such as a dutch oven, by layering the bottom of the pan with leftover cabbage leafs to prevent sticking.
  12. Add the ham hock at the bottom of the pot, and layer the cabbage rolls on top. When you filled the pot, add the sauerkraut if using, and the tomato sauce.
  13. Then add enough water to go about halfway up the pot. Partially cover with lid, and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat mixture is cooked. Make sure to move the pot a few times to make sure its not sticking or burning to the bottom.

 

Pico De Gallo

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My healthy and homemade pico is delicious on everything. No preservative filled jars here, no weird ingredient list, just wholesome goodness. You can use this to top eggs, enchiladas, rice, or just dip some chips in it! I have this at every single party or gathering that I throw. Also perfect for those upcoming Monday Night Football games (Go Cowboys)!

Pico De Gallo
yield 2 cups

Ingredietns:
6 Roma tomatoes, pitted and chopped
2 serrano peppers, devained and seeded
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 limes, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin (optional, I skipped it this round)

Directions:
Chop all ingredients and mix together in a bowl, juice limes and add seasonings. May use food processor to get a more uniform chop, but I like a more rustic feel, so I chop it by hand.

Chicken Plov (Not yo’ Mama’s Plov!)

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If you ask my children what they want for dinner, they, always, ALWAYS answer back with, “chicken and rice.” I am constantly getting creative with new rice dishes for them. We all know how hard it is for a lot of kids to eat just anything, so when they actually make a request, you have to just go with it!

This is chicken plov, my way. Not cooked outside, which is the original Uzbec way, and not cooked in a huge pot that is designed especially for plov. Because let’s face it, we don’t all have those resources, and some of us don’t want those resources when it’s a scorching 100 degrees of humidity outside. Russian-style plov, according to my friends, is typically made inside on a regular stove top, with whole garlic cloves and dill.
I chose to bend the rules a bit and make it using basmati rice that I steamed earlier in the day in my rice cooker (because this rice is low on the GI index), chicken breast seasoned with adobo, garlic powder to make it milder than whole cloves, and of course grated veggies. Then finished off in the oven. If you have never tried adobo, I recommend you go out and get some, OR MAKE some. It is such a flavorful seasoning. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
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Romanian Potato Soup (Ciorba de cartofi)

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It’s 90 degrees today. My kids asked me to make them their favorite soup for lunch: this authentic Romanian potato and vegetable soup. This recipe has been In the family for years, but my mom’s way (the way I’m sharing with you all) is by far the best I’ve ever had. I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom. I’m totally honest here! She is known ’round these parts for her delicious Romanian soups and savory dishes. And now I am sharing it with everyone else!

Romanian Potato Soup
Serves ~8

Ingredients:
• 3 tbs oil, divided
3 celery stalks, diced
• 1 large onion, diced
• Smoked bacon, pork belly or “slanina”, chopped small
• 1 bell pepper, chopped (I used 5 mini sweet yellow, red and orange peppers)
• 3 carrots, chopped
• 2 green onion, chopped
• 4-5 large potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
• 4 oz tomato sauce
• 2 tbs flour
• 1 tbs vinegar or lemon juice
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 1 tbs paprika
• Salt, pepper, to taste
• 1 tbs garlic powder
• 1 bay leaf
• fresh dill, to taste
• vegeta seasoning (optional)
• ham hock (optional)

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DIRECTIONS:
Heat a large pot and render down your bacon until pretty much crispy. Mine was smoked and didn’t render off much fat, so I added 1 tbs oil and then all the vegetables. Sautee until onions are translucent.
Add paprika and mix well, then add the rest of your seasonings.
Fill pot with water to the top, keeping in mind that a lot of it will evaporate. This is going to make your “broth.”
Add bay leaf and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 30-40 minutes. If you have a ham hock on hand and want to use it, this will flavor the broth even more.
When vegetables have softened, add in your potatoes. Simmer for another 20 minutes or so, until potatoes are tender.
In the mean time, in a sauce pan, heat remaining 2 tbs of oil with flour. This will make a roux. Let it get brown, this will happen fast, so make sure you mix continuously so it doesn’t burn. If it burns, you must start all over with the roux.
When browned, add tomato sauce while mixing so that it doesn’t splatter. Let it thicken for about a minute, then add a few ladles of your simmering soup broth. Let this boil for about 5 minutes until thickened.
Then, CAREFULLY, pour or ladle this mixture back into your soup pot. Bring to boil for about 5 minutes, until thick.
When thickened, remove pot from burner and slowly stir in your beaten egg until it starts to curdle.
Finish off by adding in the vinegar and dill. Adjust seasoning and serve.

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Healthy Poppy Seed Dressing

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I call this a “dressing,” when in fact it can be a marinade and dip as well!  It’s tangy, sweet and flavorful.
Marinade cubes of chicken breast in this, then skewer and grill them to make chicken kebabs! Or you can pour this over chilled pasta to make pasta salad. The possibilities are endless.

Healthy Poppy Seed Dressing
Yield about 5-6 oz of dressing

Ingredients:
1/2 cup plain Greek Yogurt
3 tbs mayonnaise
3 tbs honey
2 to poppy seeds
3 tbs apple cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Milk or buttermilk, for thinning (optional)
1 small sweet red pepper, diced (optional)
1 small strawberry, diced (optional)

Mix all ingredients together well. If texture is too thick, thin out with milk or buttermilk until you reach your desired consistency.
Chill for at least one hour.
May be stored in refrigerator for up to one week in airtight container.

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Watermelon Fruit Punch

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This is very refreshing, sweet and sugar free!
My kids are really into making their own Popsicles. They love to press the button (with my supervision) on our Ninja Blender. Then they love to pour the liquid into popsicle molds.
Well, great news! This drink can also be turned into refreshing Popsicles!  Follow the same instructions. Only difference is that you pour into a popsicle mold and freeze for a few hours. That’s all!

Watermelon Fruit Punch
Serves about 6

Ingredients:
1/2 large seedless watermlon, cubed (about 6 cups)
2 pouches Crystal Light Pure (fruit punch flavor)
1 1/2 c strawberries
1/3 c coconut water (more if needed)

In a blender, add all ingredients and blend until there aren’t any chunks left. Pour into pitcher.
Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. When ready to serve, stir contents well with wooden spoon and immediately pour into cups. Garnish with some fresh mint or lime wedge.
May be stored in refrigerator for up to two days.

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