Shavuos

Simply Perfect and Healthier Cheesecake

simply perfect cheesecake with fruitWe are counting the days until Shavuos (lit: weeks).

Yes.  Shavuos is the holiday that we literally count the days toward its arrival. We count 49 days (seven weeks) from Pesach (Passover) to Shavuos, blessing the sefira (counting) every evening from the second night of Pesach until Shavuos begins.

From a culinary perspective, many of us count the days until we can enjoy the delicious dairy foods that have become associated with Shavuos. We are commanded to eat dairy foods at our festive meals (Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes) on Shavuos and cheesecake has become one of the iconic desserts associated with Shavuos.

Shavuos commemorates the receiving of the Torah by the Jewish nation. It also is the time that the wheat is harvested and the bikurim (first fruits) were brought to the Holy Temple in a lavish ceremony (Bekurim: First Fruits from Hollister).  So, this year’s cheesecake is decorated with fruits, so symbolic of the bikurim ceremony.

I have kept the preparation simple and have incorporated greek yogurt and light cream cheese into the recipe to make for a healthier cheescake.   The flavor and texture is still impeccably delicious.

Just like last year’s mini cheesecake recipe, this recipe does not require a springform pan or a water bath for baking.  It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature just before preparation.   Preparation takes a few minutes and the baking is simple. It can be prepared as one round or rectangular cheesecake or in 12-16 mini ramekins.

simply perfect individual cheescake

SUPPLIES

spatula

food processor

mixer

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds light or regular cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
8 ounce container of plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs

2 cups cookies or graham crackers, crushed

4 tablespoons butter

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature before baking to prevent cracking, although I have made this recipe effectively with ingredients right out of the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Prepare cake pan or ramekins by generously spraying with cooking spray and/ or lining with parchment paper .

In food processor fitted with an S-blade, crush cookies and add butter, pulsing until mixture is fully incorporated.  You can also place cookies in a zipper bag and crush using a mallet or rolling pin, adding butter to the bag and kneading gently.  Gently press cookie-butter mixture into pan or ramekins.

Beat cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a food processor or with a mixer, just until smooth and creamy.  You can also use a whisk to incorporate and beat all these ingredients.  You will have to scrape sides of bowl to incorporate everything well until combined, smooth and creamy.

Pour mixture into pans or ramekins, filling 2/3 of the way to the top.  I find it easiest to pour the mixture from a glass measuring cup with a spout..

Bake mini ramekins for 15 minutes, 3-4″ ramekins for about 18-20 minutes and larger pan for 30 minutes.  Turn oven off and leave in oven to another hour.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Chill the ramekin cheesecakes for at least 2 hours and the larger cheesecake for at least 4 hours.  Gently remove cheesecake(s) from pan(s).

Garnish with fruit, berries, edible leaves and flowers. Dust with powdered sugar right before serving.

 

Simple Cheesy Zucchini Logs: Gluten Free and Low-Carb

Davida and her friend, Chava, made delicious calzones for Melave Malke a few weeks ago: Davida’s Easy and Delicious Calzones for a Melave Malka Feast. Although the calzones looked and smelled heavenly, Don and I were  only able to enjoy them vicariously. Since we are still on low-carb diets, we needed to find an alternative cheesy dish.

We scrubbed zucchini, cut them is half logs and roasted them for 12-15 minutes .  Once roasted, we scooped out some of the pulp and then filled them with cheese.  We put them into the oven for 5-10 minutes more and voila!

These will make a perfect and simple low-carb recipe for Shavuos (Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes).  Enjoy!

zucchini logs-up close

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Simple and Easy 5-Ingredient No-Boil Lasagna

 

no-boil-lasagna-before-cooking

 

This is the simplest and most delicious lasagna recipe that you will ever make.  It requires one mixing bowl and one baking lasagna pan with no boiling .  It creates a firm and easy to slice lasagna with minimal effort and mess.  It takes only a few minutes to prepare and one hour of oven time.

You can use either no-boil lasagna noodles or regular lasagna noodles.  For the no-boil lasagna noodles,   I prefer the ones that are wavy.   If you opt to use regular lasagna noodles, just add more watered-down sauce in the last step to the corners of your pan.  That way, the regular lasagna noodles will soften sufficiently during the baking process.

It is one of our family favorites and it will become yours, too.

lasagna-portion (more…)

Simple Mini Cheesecakes with Gorgeous Garnishes

Shavuos is on its way!  Cheesecake is one of the staples of the upcoming holiday of Shavuos, since we are commanded to eat dairy foods at our festive meals (Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes) on Shavuos.

This year, Don and I are still on a low-carb diet.    We didn’t want to forego cheesecake, but I wanted to make sure to use a minimum of carbs in my cheesecake preparation.  I decided to create portion-size cheesecakes to keep the portion size well-controlled.  This will allow us to enjoy a taste of heaven without feeling deprived, but keeping our diet “cheating” to a minimum.

Best of all, I skipped the carb-heavy crust and created some beautiful and tasty garnishes to embellish these simple and delicious mini cheesecakes.  They are light, delicious, fresh-tasting, gluten-free and simply divine.

This recipe does not require a springform pan or a water bath for baking.  It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature just before preparation.  Preparation takes a few minutes and the baking takes less than 20 minutes.  It is best made in disposable or porcelain ramekins.  It makes 6 medium size or 12 mini ramekins.

 

Supplies

3-4 inch ramekins Set of 6 three ounce ramekins or aluminum disposable mini ramekins 39mm

 

Ingredients

1 pound cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

mini cheese cakemini cheese cake with strawberry and chocolate garnishmini cheese cake with chocolate barkmini cheese cake with chocolate bark only

Directions

It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature before baking to prevent cracking, although I have made this recipe effectively with ingredients right out of the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Spray ramekins with cooking spray.

Beat  cream cheese with eggs with a whisk, in a food processor or with a mixer, just until smooth and creamy.  Add rest of ingredients, beating and incorporating well.  You may have to scrape sides of bowl to incorporate everything well until combined, smooth and creamy.

Pour mixture into ramekins, filling 2/3 of the way to the top.  I find it easiest to pour the mixture from a glass measuring cup with a spout..

Bake mini ramekins for 15 minutes, 3-4″ ramekins for about 18-20 minutes.  Cheesecake will rise slightly.  Centers should be set, although the cheese cake will appear to be slightly jiggly.

Remove from the oven and  cool completely.  Chill the cheesecakes in the ramekins for at least 2 hours or overnight.

The cheese cakes can be served directly  in the ramekins or can be removed from the ramekins and served upside side.  If removing from the ramekins, carefully turn over on a serving plate.  Allow cheese cake to rest for a few minutes before garnishing.

Garnish with fruit, berries, edible leaves and flowers, chocolate bark (Chards of Colorful Chocolate Bark: Whimsical and Delicious)or whole or crumbled cookies.

 

Variations

This recipe can be made as a small single cheesecake.  Generously grease a round baking pan.  Prepare ingredients as above and pour ingredients into greased round pan.  Increase baking time to 30 minutes or until center is set.  Garnish as above.

 

Prepare a crust by crumbling 1 cup of  your favorite cookies with 3 tablespoons of melted butter or coconut oil.  Press into the bottom of each ramekin and bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool before pouring cheesecake batter over the crust.  Continue to bake as above.  You may have to gently coax cheesecake out of ramekin or pan using a smooth knife to unseat the edges of the crust.

mini cheese cake with crust and edible pansies

A Few Good Blossoms: Floating Arrangements

I began this SimpletoWow blog in January with an original post,   It’s all about the arrangement (psst….even with last week’s roses), on arranging last week’s open and just-wilting roses.  It was intended to showcase  simple and wow ways to use what you have in surprising and unexpected ways.

last week's roses in a square bowl

As the Jewish holiday of Shavuos approaches (see Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes), I would like to add some other ways to make use of a few good blossoms.

last week's gerber daisies in a large rose bowl

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Upcycled Glass Jar Floral Arrangement: Simply Stunning

My friend Marilyn, and her family joined us for a meal over Pesach (Passover). Since we were in a small apartment in Jerusalem with our extended family, we did not have enough room to host everyone in the dining room. Instead, we set up tables and ate in the courtyard. Marilyn sent flowers before Yom Tov (holiday) in the perfect arrangement. It was a gorgeous grouping of narrow clear bottles lined up side by side in a metal caddy spilling over with white garden roses. The arrangement was narrow and long, just perfect for our narrow outdoor tables.

It created a stunning visual impact without taking away from the table space needed for setting and serving. The white roses lasted for several days, but the centerpiece containers were so easy to fill that I refilled them for the last few days of our stay in Jerusalem with an array of other flowers. Both arrangements were simply stunning.

Over Pesach, I commented so many times about the beauty and the practicality of this centerpiece. I was determined to recreate it with upcycled materials for use back in the States. And….here it is!

upcycled square arrangement-top view (more…)

Bekurim: First Fruits from Hollister

This morning, on my return from my morning walk, my neighbor, Hollister,  surprised me with a wonderful gift.  He handed me a bag with the first heads of lettuce harvested from his vegetable garden.  I protested that he should keep this precious first harvest for himself, but he insisted that he wanted me to have them.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the bounty.  You see…first fruits, also called Bekurim,  are very special.

hollister lettuce up close (more…)

Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes

We are commanded to count 49 days or 7 weeks of sefira (counting) from Pesach until the holiday of Shavuos.  Every night after it gets dark, we make a bracha and count one more day toward Shavuos.  While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation and our freedom after our miraculous exodus from Egypt, Shavuos commemorates our receiving of the commandments of the Torah.

There are two holiday customs that are unique to Shavuos.  We eat an assortment of dairy foods and we decorate our homes with flowers and greenery.  Both commemorate the events leading up to the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We eat a dairy feast on Shavuos, unlike the festive meat meals that we enjoy  on all other holidays during the year.  We learn that “there is no great joy, except in meat and wine”.  On Shavuos we make an exception to that concept and eat at least one festive dairy meal.  There are a number of reasons for the custom on Shavuos to  eat dairy foods on Shavuos.  Here are a couple of those reasons:

As the Torah was received, the Jewish nation became obligated to observe the kosher laws. Since the Torah was given on Shabbos  as a day of rest, cattle could not be slaughtered and utensils could not be koshered.  For this reason, the Jewish nation ate dairy food on that day.  We have kept this custom until today.

The Torah is compared to milk, for it is nourishing and wholesome for our souls. Chalav is the Hebrew word for milk and the numerical value of the letters spelling chalav totals forty.  Moses spent forty (40) days on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah .

We decorate our homes and synagogues in honor of Shavuos with greenery and flowers.   We commemorate the setting of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and we mark the observance of Shavuos, known as chag ha’bikurim (festival of the harvest of first fruits). Here are some reasons that we decorate with flowers and greenery on Shavuos:

Mount Sinai was chosen to be the site for the receiving of the Torah because of its humility. Once chosen, the humble and flower-free desert mountain sprouted greenery and flowers.  This adornment of physical beauty enhanced the spiritual beauty of this monumental event.

Since Shavuos is also the festival of the harvesting of first fruits,  it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. During the time of our holy temple in Jerusalem, farmers tied a ribbon around their first fruits and brought those cherished ripe first fruits to Jerusalem in a lavish and joyous ceremony.   Floral decorations on Shavuos commemorate that first fruit ceremony.

The blossoming of our souls with Torah is compared to the the desert blooming with flowers, as it did at the time that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai.  Just as a barren mountain was adorned with flowers at that time, our ordinary lives can bloom with the light of Torah.

It is customary to decorate with  fragrant herbs, plants and flowers around our home and synagogue.  This symbolize the fragrance that Torah brings to the world.

As a countdown to Shavuos, I will be posting floral inspirations and dairy recipes over the next weeks until Shavuos.