My interests have shifted over time. For example, when I was very young I remember telling some judgy adult I wanted to be a doctor. That velleity only lasted a few minutes, but I also wanted to be a ballerina and an actress (thank goodness that didn’t last!) and later, a documentary filmmaker under the deep blue sea, a poet, a novelist, a singer-songwriter, a nail artist, a real artist, and others.
Mixed up in all this, as well as the confusion of going to college and thinking I was cured of all body-image and food-related thought traps, it makes sense that I often forget I like to make recipes. I only did this one yesterday because I was suffering an extreme terror over having to meet a friend today and having to make sure I got enough exercise… After doing some yoga, I made up this random recipe for a no-bake brownie cheesecake that just happened to turn out post-able, if not magazine-photogenic. Of course, my interests nowadays lean farther away from baking and more towards marine conservation…
Above: “Pserudobiceros gloriosus (flatworm) on Polycarpa aurata (Seasquirt)” by Nick Hobgood (see bottom of page for full credits)
I was thinking of titling this post “Berry Turbellarian Brownie Cheesecake,” or “Chilled Flatworm Brownie Delight,” in reference to how utterly flat this layered dessert turned out (food often reminds me of marine animals.) But despite the delightful colors of some turbellarians (free-swimming as opposed to parasitic flatworms) I didn’t think that would be a great title for a recipe (after all, I don’t want to encourage people to take flatworms out of their natural habitat in order to enjoy them in dessert recipes!) So here is the flatworm-free Summer Berry Brownie Cheesecake, which I made in the shape of a square field but which might work out better in a smaller container so as to make the layers thicker and easier to cut and eat (and photograph.) Enjoy!
No-Bake Summer Berry Brownie Cheesecake
*Note: I recommend doubling the whole recipe so it makes a thicker layer of brownie, or you could put it in a smaller pan/container)
- 1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
- 1 tbs white sugar (or use your favorite type of granulated sweetener; this is just all I had in the house at the moment)
- 5 tbs milk
- 2 squares of a solid, dark chocolate bar (I used the store brand “Signature Select” 72% cacao dark chocolate with almonds and blueberry)
- 1 container Chobani Pure Raspberry “Flip” whole milk Greek yogurt (or your favorite thick Greek yogurt, preferably the type where the yogurt and fruit sauce are given separately)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar (of your choice)
- 1 Laughing Cow light creamy swiss cheese triangle
- 1 cup fresh, washed blueberries
Line a brownie pan, bread pan, or a gaggle of muffin cups with aluminum foil.
In a medium bowl, combine cocoa powder, 1 tbs sugar and milk.
Melt one square of chocolate and mix the melted chocolate into the brownie batter.
In another medium bowl, combine just the yogurt (not the fruit-syrupy stuff) with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss cheese triangle. Mix gently with a spoon; try to blend the cheese into the yogurt instead of chopping it into isolated cheesy morsels.
Knead the brownie dough/batter/stuff until it is thick and mostly contingent (it will never stick together). As best you can, press it onto the foil in your pan like a holey crust.
Break the remaining square of chocolate into little chunks and sprinkle them to fill the holes between brownie batter splotches.
Pour the yogurt cheesecake mixture over the brownie crust. Use a spoon to gently spread it evenly.
Drizzle the fruit syrup over the yogurt and gently mix it in with a spoon.
Distribute the blueberries evenly on top.
Refrigerate overnight and enjoy cool.
Full image credit for flatworm image:
“Pserudobiceros gloriosus (flatworm) on Polycarpa aurata (Seasquirt).” By Nhobgood Nick Hobgood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Free_Documentation_License
Recently, my family went on an excursion to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. For a building that looks small on the outside, that place sure packs a lot of information into all its exhibits and I recommend it to all ocean enthusiasts!
The most exciting part of the trip, however, were the nearby tide pools which we explored after the aquarium. Perched on a rock, gazing down at little hermit crabs rushing about and watching the tide roll in and out, I felt very connected to nature.
Sunburns are red, the ocean is blue, and these blueberry pancakes have blue color too!
Sorry for that terrible rhyme. I just couldn’t resist.
And you won’t be able to resist these fluffy, buttery pancakes (which contain no butter and are packed with protein.) Use your favorite flavor of Greek yogurt – I used lemon, but the flavor didn’t really come out. Maybe adding some lemon zest would help?
Overall, these pancakes make a great way to start your day. Enjoy!
Blueberry Yogurt Pancakes
based on recipe from everydaybelle.com
- 5.3 oz Greek yogurt – I used lemon flavor; you couldn’t really taste it
- 1 egg
- scant 1/2 cup all purpose flour (or experiment with your favorite flour)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1 tbs peanut butter
Pour yogurt into a medium bowl. Beat in egg. Add flour and baking soda. Mix well. Batter will be lumpy. Stir in blueberries.
Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray.
Pour batter into pan and cook over medium heat. When batter is very bubbly, flip the pancakes. When they are brown on both sides, remove from heat and place on serving plate.
I’m about to go off to college in a new state. I realized the other day that now was the best time to appreciate my hometown, Santa Monica. We all tend to take our home town for granted, but I know mine has a lot to offer. So when I visited the pier recently, I took my camera along to capture every moment.
I kind of felt like a tourist, taking pictures of everything. But that was my way of experiencing my city in its full glory.
Another thing I’ll miss about being home is being able to cook more often than I expect to in college. To fully enjoy my current kitchen privileges, I made this dish this morning for breakfast.
Bananas and berries go together like a match made in heaven. This easy cheat to a “caramelized” banana pairs it with blueberry Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, and dried cranberries for a fruity fiesta! Enjoy this balanced breakfast of fiber, protein and just the right dose of sweetness.
“Caramelized” Banana Berry Breakfast Bowl
- 1 large banana
- 1 tbs honey
- 6-8 fresh strawberries
- one container of Greek blueberry yogurt
- one single-serving box of Craisins
Freeze yogurt until it has a soft frozen consistency (about 30 minutes.)
Wash and cut up strawberries. Arrange in serving bowl.
Spray a medium pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cut banana into two to three pieces, and place on pan.
Turn heat to medium. Drizzle honey over banana pieces. Turn over when slightly browned, and brown the other side.
Remove from heat. Place banana in serving bowl. Scoop frozen yogurt on top, and sprinkle with Craisins.
Most foods give off a smell, especially when they’re warm. Sometimes the smell is a bit repugnant (case in point: sophisticated cheese.) Oftentimes it is beckoning, tempting. And occasionally, it is absolutely irresistible!
That last was the case for the delicious, quick blueberry hazelnut chocolate chip oatmeal I made this morning. As I boiled the water with the oats, cinnamon, and guilt-free Truvia natural sweetener (I used their baking blend variety which contains some sugar but is lower in sugars and calories than refined sugar), a lovely smell began wafting towards my nose. And when I mixed in luscious fresh blueberries, crunchy hazelnuts, and a swirl of melted chocolate chips, I knew I was on to something. This oatmeal smelled so delicious it was almost a shame to eat it all up!
But eat it I did, knowing that this was not only a tasty breakfast but also a healthy one. With a good portion of fiber and some vital nutrients from the blueberries, as well as a lower sugar content than instant oatmeal due to the Truvia, this makes a great carb portion of a balanced breakfast, possibly to be combined with some eggs, nut butter on fruit, or yogurt for protein. I might also suggest adding some more spices, like nutmeg or ginger, so it is even more aromatic.
Blueberry Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal
- 1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
- 1 tbs Truvia baking blend
- small dash cinnamon
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup fresh, washed blueberries
- 1 tbs chopped hazelnuts
- 10-15 semisweet chocolate chips
Pour oats, Truvia, and cinnamon into a pot on stove. Mix. Add water. Heat to medium and cook for about a minute or until oats are bubbling and water is absorbed.
Pour oatmeal into serving bowl. Mix in blueberries, hazelnuts, and chocolate chips.
Let cool a minute and enjoy warm. But first, just take in that magical smell… mmmm!
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Often the best, most interesting and wonderful things in life are also the hardest to find. True friends and soul mates are hard to find; likewise, buried treasure, and exotic species are quite elusive, and can avoid discovery for generations. But as hard as these entities are to allocate, they are all the more valuable once found.
Recently I read about the po’ouli bird, a species likely related to a honeycreeper that was first discovered by University of Hawaii students in 1973. Here’s a pic:
The po’ouli is structurally dissimilar to any other living bird species, and nests in the rainforest in trees with a name so hard to pronounce I won’t even try, (though I’m sure it sounds beautiful in the native language) and dines on pesky creepy-crawlies such as spiders (go, po’ouli birds!) When it was discovered, the species was already endangered. Despite efforts to conserve and regrow the existing population, it continued to dwindle until there were only three known individuals alive in 1997. Desperate attempts to get these lonely survivors to produce offspring were made, but to no avail.
Today, there are only two males left, and the chances of expanding the population using tissue samples or some other artificial method are slim, as no females are left. Due to habitat loss, disease, loss of prey species, and other factors likely highly influenced by humans, the po’ouli bird is now practically extinct. This rare and beautiful creature has been like a fleeting dream fluttering across the stage of human knowledge between its discovery so late and its disappearance too soon.
I imagine it was very exciting for those University of Hawaii students to come upon an undiscovered species quietly existing in the heart of the forest right by their school. All life is a treasure, but a scientific and historical treasure indeed was the discovery of this understated bird. And to let the population dwindle to a measly few individuals keeping the species of po’ouli alive, hanging on by a thread to the earth as it turns away, led by the rope of human ignorance, this sad occurrence is akin to a pirate’s lifetime of gold and jewels being devoured by a black sea wave and buried under thousands of leagues of murky scum. A treasure, first unknown, then under-appreciated, now lost if we do not act at once. The most valuable treasure is the one that is taken for granted until it is gone.
Now, onto a cheerier discussion of a much different type of elusive treasure…the legendary perfect crumb muffin! You know, that delicious-yet-super-fattening muffin with the brown sugar/cinnamon crumble on top that fills your mouth with sugar and brightens your whole day yet simultaneously causes you to feel extremely guilty for eating the soft, moist baked treat covered in sinful streusel? I have tried several times to make a healthier version of crumb-topped baked goods at home, but I can never get it just right the way they do in bakeries…either the crumbs roll right off the muffin, or they sink into the batter while baking heretofore losing the delightful texture of grainy crumbly bits. They just don’t want to stay put on top of the muffin!!! As you might imagine, these repeated failures have frustrated me to the point that I’ve vowed to myself never to try and make a crumb muffin again, lest I suffer the annoyance of misbehaving crumb topping on yet another occasion. Yet the inexplicable call of the crumb muffin beckons me to the kitchen, over and over throughout the years, armed with a new recipe or technique, somehow sure this time will be different, this time I will conquer the great and terrible crumb muffin and pull something magical out of the oven. This time the crumbs will neither sink into the batter, nor roll away.
Needless to say, this different, special day has not arrived yet. But like a scientist whiling away his life searching for a new species, like a pirate traversing the world ocean in search of mythical treasure, I have some sort of irrepressible urge to continue trying, until the day I prevail. Or the day my oven breaks, whichever comes first. That’s what drove me to make these crumb muffins last week. An image of banana blueberry muffins with that impossible, magical cinnamon crumble topping popped into my head, and I simply could not get rid of it. The only thing to do was bake the muffins, and hope that this time would be different. I mixed up the batter with banana, blueberry, steel-cut oats, tart yogurt and cream cheese, and other good stuff. I popped them in the oven, took them out around halfway through the baking process to gingerly adorn each one with a sprinkling of my crumble topping, placed them back in the oven, then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Maybe this batch would be my perfect crumb muffins, my treasure.
When the timer shrieked I whisked the muffins out of the oven and saw at once that treasure…these were not. At least, in terms of looks. The all-important crumble wasn’t looking so crumb-y: it had sunken a bit into the center of each muffin, making them look more like little depressed volcanoes than chipper crumb muffins. Glumly I snapped a few pictures on the off-chance they’d taste all right, though I already knew they weren’t the treasure muffins I was hoping for.
As it turned out, they tasted marvelous! The tart flavor of the yogurt and cream cheese came through only faintly, I was hoping for a bit more tart flavor, but they still tasted great, mostly like delicious banana, flavorful blueberries, nourishing whole grains and oats, and a nice, melty layer of sugar and spice on top. My mom said they tasted “healthy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Maybe I’m used to things tasting “healthy,” but personally I prefer the hearty texture of a homemade healthy muffin to a light, buttery bakery one made heavy with guilt. When served warm, with the not-so-“crumb”-y topping rolling down the sides and melting in your mouth, these muffins are the perfect breakfast treat! Even if they don’t look perfect, they are a true treasure for the tastebuds. And a treasure in terms of nutrition as well: the batter is packed with real fruit and whole grains, and they are low in fat and calories – one filling muffin is less than 200! Since they have steel cut oats and whole wheat pastry flour, instead of just finely ground white flour, their glycemic index is lower than that of many traditionally-baked muffins.
The take-away? Looks aren’t everything. Look carefully at your trash and you may find treasure where you least expect it. Protect your treasure well, whether it be in the form of gold, endangered animals, or a muffin on your plate that you don’t want anyone to steal!
Here’s the recipe I used. If you know a better technique for baking perfect crumb muffins, please do let me know in the comments!
Banana Blueberry Crumb Muffins
Based on recipe from babylovingmama.com
Makes 12 regular size muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 cup dry steel cut oats
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash cinnamon
- 2 large bananas
- 1 egg (I used 3 tbs Lucerne brand egg substitute)
- 2 tbs organic light agave syrup
- 2 Laughing Cow brand Smooth Sensations cinnamon cream cheese spread
- 1 Chobani brand strawberry banana flavored 2% milkfat Greek yogurt (or use your favorite brand of lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt.)
- 3 tbs skim milk
- 1 1/2 cups blueberries
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbs whole wheat pastry flour
- pinch cinnamon
- 1 tbs Earth Balance Whipped Buttery Spread (or use original; we just happened to have whipped in the house)
- 1/2 tsp organic light agave syrup
- 1 to 2 tsp water
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line a regular-sized muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
For Muffins: In a large bowl, combine the flour, steel cut oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix.
Place the bananas in another large bowl, and mash them a bit with a fork. Then add the egg substitute, 2 tbs agave, and 2 Laughing Cow cheese wedges. Combine using an electric mixer until all the ingredients are pretty well incorporated (my mixture was still somewhat lumpy.)
Pour wet mixture into dry. Add the yogurt and 3 tbs skim milk. Stir just until combined. Add blueberries and mix gently.
Pour muffin batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full or more (these muffins are pretty big but don’t rise too much during baking.) Bake for about ten minutes before you add the crumb topping, and 6-8 minutes after (16-18 minutes total.)
For Crumb Topping: In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, 2 tbs whole wheat pastry flour, and cinnamon. Toss mixture. Cut in 1 tbs Earth Balance in little pieces. Mix with your fingers until mixture becomes crumbly. (Mine was way too dry so I added an extra 1/2 tsp agave and a few drops of water, which gave it more of a crumbly texture, so do this if needed.)
After muffins have baked at 375 Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle the crumb topping evenly on top of each muffin. Return to oven for another 6-8 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Serve these muffins warm to those people you treasure in your life!
Po’ouli bird photo credits: (in order of appearance)
Cartoon muffin pic from:
Let’s admit it: sometimes eating healthy can be a bit of a drag. You have to make some sacrifices to take care of your body, which can be hard for people. I actually tend to prefer healthy foods over unhealthy foods most of the time: for example, I’ll willingly choose yogurt raisins over m’n’ms any day. But sometimes arranging my meals and buying healthy products feels like it conflicts with my ability to enjoy what I eat.
Take yesterday evening, for example: I was at Whole Foods with my mom getting dinner to go, and I’d planned to also buy something to use as filling for the single serve crepe I was planning. I went to the jams and jellies aisle and scanned the items for something that looked good. It’s Whole Foods so that makes everything there automatically healthy, right? Nope. Not at all. Sure, there may be less artificial ingredients, but I picked up quite a few items that had no real nutritional benefits. Maple syrup: too many calories, no positive nutrients. Jelly: too sugary. So if you would otherwise be eating maple syrup or jelly from the supermarket, with all the fake ingredients and additives, and are considering a Whole Foods product as an alternative the lesser of two evils is the Whole Foods product because it is organic. But I wanted to have something that was actually good for me, so I chose pumpkin butter. My crepe ended up tasting good. But that frustrating experience in Whole Foods left me with a need to rebel…
So I did, in a small but effective way, with this cheesecake smoothie. I added 1/2 cup of Frosted Toast Crunch, regardless of all the artificial flavors in it. And the smoothie was great! It tasted just like a delicious blueberry strawberry cheesecake with a crunchy cinnamon crust. And I don’t have to feel too bad about the Frosted Toast Crunch cereal: after all, it has whole grains! 🙂
That’s really a lot of what this blog is about: finding a way to balance healthy eating with happy eating. Enjoy!
Berry Cheesecake Smoothie with Frosted Toast Crunch
- 1 banana
- 4 or so fresh strawberries
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 blueberry Greek yogurt
- 2 Laughing Cow brand creamy swiss cheese wedges
- 1 tsp vanilla
- dash cinnamon
- 5-6 ice cubes
- 1/2 cup Frosted Toast Crunch cereal
Blend all ingredients except cereal for a couple minutes. Add some of the cereal and blend a few seconds. Pour into a large glass. Top with remaining cereal.
I don’t like to be mediocre. I get all A’s in school, I practice violin until I get it right, and I color in all my drawings (yes, I do draw as a hobby) until there are no annoying little white spaces. The same concept applies to my baking: I don’t want anything I bake to be just okay, so-so. I want all who are lucky enough to taste my baked goods to practically faint in amazement, I want to be able to blog about some muffins I made that were sublime, not just sort of acceptable. Unfortunately, I cannot tell a lie: these muffins fall into the latter category.
I’m not sure what it is about them, there’s just something that isn’t quite five-star quality about these muffins. Maybe they could be more interesting? I threw in some oatmeal when I mixed up the batter, but maybe I should have added more because it’s barely noticeable in the texture. The flavor is pretty good, the texture is soft and moist… my mom thinks they don’t taste quite right because I used Truvia. But she loved my whole wheat cookies and pumpkin brownie cheesecake thingy, which both included Truvia. Maybe combining the Truvia with chocolate masks the “strangeness” of it? I have to say, I think it does something to the flavor of these orange blueberry muffins. They are sweet, but maybe not sweet enough.
I was very frustrated that these muffins are just mediocre, because I actually tried to make the recipe twice. That’s right, folks: America’s most fanatical never-do-the-same-thing-again baker has retried a recipe on the same day that it flopped! The first time I made this yesterday I used solely Truvia and no real sugar, so it was not sweet at all. In addition, since I replaced the orange juice called for in the original recipe with more docile mango juice the mango flavor was not detectable and the muffins kind of had no flavor. So I used orange juice the second time, added some real sugar along with the Truvia… and my result was sort of better than before. But still only mediocre.
I’m going to post my recipe, just in the hopes that someone can come up with an idea of how to make this okay recipe stellar. If anyone out there has an idea, and/or tries themselves to make this recipe differently and gets a different result, please feel free to post the changes made in the comments.
Mediocre Muffin Recipe for Blueberry Orange Muffins
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 16 packets Truvia natural sweetener
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 packet Open Nature brand Vanilla Almond flavor instant oatmeal
- 1 Chobani brand Greek yogurt, Blood Orange flavor
- 1 tbsp orange zest (called for in original recipe. I did not use this.)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 eggs (I used 1/4 cup Egg beaters and one egg, since that was all the egg matter we had in the house.)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 3/4 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix. Add wet ingredients and mix well, but do not overmix. Batter will seem wet and thin (at least, it was like that when I did this.) Fold in blueberries.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, trying not to splash it all over the place like I did 🙂 Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
Don’t you just hate when you put a lot of time into baking something, have your hopes rise up and up as the warm oven fills the house with a delicious aroma, and then feel your hopes crash to the floor again as you take a bite and it doesn’t taste as awesome as it smells? My baked stuff always smells so good… but the scent is often deceiving.
Again, if anyone has any ideas, please leave a comment!