Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Squares

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This post has definitely been a long time in the making. I began it, oh three weeks or so ago, intending it to be a Valentine’s Day post. But then there were basketball games to attend (my daughter’s, not the Washington Wizards’), college choices to consider (my other daughter’s), and homework to do (my own, not my daughters’), and before I knew it, I was three weeks out and still no post.

Of course, it didn’t help that I started out a bit daunted with the idea of developing the recipe that’s in the post. You see, for some reason, I decided that I wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day with cheesecake squares, preferably ones the come out of the oven decorated with splashes of raspberry sauce swirled into charming, heart-like shapes. It was Valentine’s Day for goodness sake! At the same time, any recipe for cheesecake squares had to meet my two basic conditions for appearing on this blog: They had to be a snap to make. And, they couldn’t be fat and sugar bombs, which would have prevented me from enjoying them more than a few times a year.

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Carrot and Fennel Soup

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A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story on the origin of baby carrots. Contrary to popular perception, those little orange nubs that come ready to eat in portable plastic bags aren’t juvenile versions of Bugs Bunny’s preferred snack. Baby carrots, it turns out, are actually larger carrots that have been peeled, cut and polished into two-bite chunks. Who knew?

I must admit that I’m not a fan of baby carrots. When my daughters were younger I used to buy them from time to time, usually for their lunches. But inevitably, a portion of each bag would go to waste. The stragglers would dry out and develop a kid-displeasing whitish coating. Or they would become mushy and even a little slimy, indicating spoilage.

I also think baby carrots are less flavorful than their larger cousins. I suspect this is due to the fact that growers, seeking to appeal to Americans’ potent sweet tooth, have turned to carrots whose sugar content has been boosted through selective breeding practices. The additional sugar masks other, more traditional flavors, or it displaces them altogether.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Dates and Olives

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2015 was a banner year for the Mediterranean diet with a number of published studies linking it with important health benefits. These included lower risks for heart disease, breast cancer and depression, and improved cognitive function. And those don’t include the study published in December 2014 linking the Mediterranean diet to a longer life.

As far as I’m concerned, these results are terrific news. I’m a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes minimally processed foods primarily from plant sources; seafood; copious amounts of olive oil; some dairy, poultry, and beef; and red wine. Equally important, it values the social aspect of food, such as sharing meals and conversation with others while eating (hello, family dinner!).

All of which leads me to the recipe I’m sharing with you today. It’s a simple tapas recipe whose country of origin is Spain, one of the countries whose cuisines contribute to the Mediterranean diet. I first tried the dish at Jaleo, the Washington D.C. tapas institution, and, as is my custom when I experience something simple and delicious in a restaurant, I wanted to replicate it at home. Fortunately, I found a recipe on Jaleo’s Facebook page that I was able to use as a starting point.

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Chocolate Pots de Crème

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What’s going on with Mother Nature? Her spring-like temperatures along the East Coast this December have upended everyone’s normal expectations for winter.  There’s just something bewildering about Washington D.C.’s cherry blossoms blooming in December!

That said, the one benefit to this month’s warm temperatures that I am appreciating is the opportunity to spend more time outside in the sun, although the reason for my enthusiasm is not what you might guess. You see, more time in the sun means more opportunities for our bodies to make Vitamin D, a critical nutrient that many of us may be deficient in, especially during the winter.

In my last post I described the importance of vitamin D and the three ways that our bodies can obtain it. Today I thought I’d share a recipe for pots de crème, an easy-to-make French dessert that uses milk, a great source of vitamin D.

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Vitamin D: What It Is and How To Get It

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Vitamin D is an important vitamin used by our bodies to assist in the absorption and use of the bone-building mineral calcium. Persons that are deficient in vitamin D are at greater risk of having bones that are soft, weak, or misshapen. Emerging evidence is also suggesting that vitamin D may play an important role in other bodily processes, including modulating cell growth, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation.

Our bodies obtain Vitamin D in three ways. The most common is for our bodies to make it from a substance that our skin produces after it is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) B rays. However, several factors can interfere with this process. One is the use of sunscreen, which blocks UVB rays from reaching our skin. Another is the onset of winter, a time when the sun’s rays are weaker, there are fewer daylight hours, and more of our skin is covered by bulky clothing.

In the absence of sunlight, our bodies must obtain vitamin D from either dietary supplements or certain foods. In the case of supplements, my preference is take them only under a doctor’s supervision, since taking too many risks vitamin toxicity and other negative side effects. Supplements can also interact with other medications.

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