Chai Cheesecake wins 2nd place at the Big Fresno Fair

I always love entering the cooking contests at our Big Fresno Fair. It's a fun challenge to make something unique with the designated food product - not to mention a little extra dough if you win. This year I entered the Malt-O-Meal Creations contest. I thought it would be using something porridge-like Malt-o-Meal hot cereal we all grew up on. But the company is out to promote their cold cereals so I had to come up with a unique recipe using on of their cold cereals.

After visitng three local grocery stores, I finally checked the web site and found the cereals were sold at our local Walmart. I came home with a huge back of Honey Nut Scooters, which are similar to Honey Nut Cheerios or Honey Trader O's, which I prefer. Then I had to dream up something to make.The contest is judged on Creativity, Taste and Ease of Recipe.

I have to admit I let weeks go by. I was stumped. Then one day my friend Bev showed up at my house with a slice of cheesecake. We marveled at how inexpensive cheesecake is to make and how glorious and rich the result. I decided to rev up a cheesecake using the cereal in the crust. I knew this couldn't be just any cheesecake. It had to be different. I decided to employ one of my fave flavors - Chai Tea.

I'm a Chai lover. If you haven't had Chai, it's a tea using Indian-inspired spices. The word chai literally means tea. This tea feels very fall to me - full of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. Everyone mixes their chai a little differently. I've noticed Chai is becoming all the rage in local cafes and even Jamba Juice serves a Chai-licious smoothie that's inspiring.

I made a couple of cheesecakes to perfect the crust and Chai filling mixture. Of course, I cut the sugar used in most cheesecake recipes in half. The following recipe was the result. My family and I had fun heading down to the Big Fresno Fair and watching the judging. Surprise, surprise - 100 percent of the entries were desserts. The judges did deliberate. 

They announced the winners and my "Chai Cheesecake with Honey Nut Crust" was awarded 2nd place and $50. I was very excited to stand next to Pearl, the first place winner. She was the sweetest old lady who was blind and had entered 20 other desserts in the fair as well. Her Raspberry Crunch Pie deserved first!

Chai Cheesecake  


4 cups cereal, crushed (I like Trader O's, Honey Nut Scooters or good old fashioned graham crackers will work too.)

½ cup butter, melted

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup organic sugar

4 cage-free large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ pint whipping cream

1 tablespoon honey


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Crush cereal in a ziplock bag with a mallet or in a food processor. They should look like coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in melted butter to coat cereal.

3. Press into the bottom of a greased (round) spring form or other cake pan and bake for 5 minutes to set. Remove from oven and cool.

4. Blend cream cheese and sugar with hand mixer. Add eggs one at a time and blend until mixture is smooth. Add vanilla, ginger, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon. Pour over crust.

5. Bake for one hour. Remove and cool. Chill at least one hour before slicing.

6. Whip cream and add honey. Spoon a dollop on top of cheesecake slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Budget Bites: Love 'em Lentil Burgers

It's crunch time. We're in the process of selling our house and preparing for a year of serving in Haiti. My hubby is only working part-time for these few months. That means our budget is tight, tight, tight these days. I'm tempted to whine about it but I'll try the high road and make it into a food challenge. I'm starting a new occasional series on this blog called "Budget Bites," which features healthy, scrumptious foods that is cheap to make. I did something similar last fall when I took on the Great Pantry Challenge. I discovered lots of fun recipes just by scavenging through my own pantry. Only this time it will be individual recipes and the inspiration to possibly try out some new ingredients - not just your familiar staples.

A few months ago my hubby's cousins from Spain came to visit. I have a foodie friend in Maribel and she introduced me to some of her family's favorite eats including homemade Spanish Paella and Tapas (Spanish appetizers). On the simpler side, we also served up a lunch of lentil burgers together. I was shocked to watch her three kids and my two girls gobble these babies down.

What struck me later was how cheap these are to make and you still can have the "burger experience." Sign me up. If a "veggie burger" or anything "lentil" sounds blah to you, don't be a hater until you've tried these out. My carnivore soul was surprised. (Our family tries to eat vegetarian two to three times a week to save moolah and for health reasons but my Italian-Filipino upbringing still has me savoring my meat.) If you really want it to taste like a burger, skip the yogurt sauce and add your favorite condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo or salsa.

We welcome all positive (and even negative!) feedback from our eaters!

Lentil Burgers

-2 cups dried lentils
-1 onion, chopped
-1 green pepper, chopped (You could substitute zucchini.)
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-2 red cherry peppers, finely diced (My mom had these in her garden and my hubby likes the extra kick that's not too overpowering for my kids. You could try out a jalapeno for more heat or red bell pepper for a sweeter taste.)
-2 teaspoons sea salt
-1/2 teaspoon paprika
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-3 cups panko breadcrumbs (Japanese-style breadcrumb sold in most stores that add an extra crunch when you're breading something or other whole wheat breadcrumbs will work)
-1/2 cup olive oil

-1 cucumber, thinly sliced
-1 tomato, sliced
-8 whole wheat pita bread pockets or whole wheat buns
-1 cup plain yogurt mixed with a few drops of lemon juice
-mint or basil leaves for garnish


1. Put lentils into a large mixing bowl. Cover with water & let soak for an hour or overnight. (They will grow in the bowl so make sure yours is big enough.)
2. Chop onion, green pepper, garlic and hot pepper.
3. When lentils are soft, mix with immersion hand blender or food processor. You want the mixture to be a very coarse paste, not runny like hummus.
4. Heat skillet and add 1/4-inch of olive oil.
5. Stir chopped vegetables and spices into the lentils.
6. Pour half of the breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl or dish. Spread out along the bottom of the bowl.
7. Form a "hamburger pattie" in your hands with the lentil mixture. Immediately press into the breadcrumbs. Use a spatula to flip in breadcrumbs and help you transfer the pattie into the sizzling olive oil. Saute until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with remaining lentil mixture.
8. Serve on a whole wheat pita bread or bun with slices of tomatoes and cucumber. Garnish with whole leaves of mint or basil and yogurt sauce.

Makes 12 burgers; Serves 6-8
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