Friday, March 10, 2017

Grain-free, Sugar-free Turtle Cheesecake in the Instant Pot

This is not a food blog and I don't normally post recipes here.  I also realize I haven't written in a really long time - that's another story for another day 😀.   Several people have asked for this recipe and this was the easiest way for me to share it, so here it is!

Instant Pot Turtle Cheesecake (Grain Free, Sugar Free)
This recipe was made in a 6 inch diameter, 3 inch deep, push-bottom cheesecake pan (this is the exact one I have).

If you plan to make this in a standard pie pan or tart pan, you’ll need to double the crust portion of the recipe.  The filling may or may not completely fit in a standard depth pie or tart pan.

I made this in a pressure cooker; I have no idea how long to bake this in the oven. From what I've read about baking cheesecakes, it's best to cook them in a water bath, low and slow (low temperature for a long time).

¾ Cup Fine Ground Almond Flour (I used Wellbee's)
3 T good quality cocoa powder (I like Rapunzel)
2 rounded Tablespoons Swerve Confectioners sweetener
2-3 T melted butter (2 is enough to bind the crust ingredients, but 3 makes it more fudgey)

20 oz regular cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup regular sour cream, room temperature
½ cup sugar or other granulated sweetener (I used a combo of Swerve, Xylitol, & Stevia)
½ tsp pure Vanilla extract (I beg you - do not use imitation!)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
about ¼ cup caramel sauce (recipe link and tips follows)

Caramel Sauce * (All Day I Dream About Food - Best Low Carb Caramel Sauce)

optional fillings and toppings:
Lily's brand dark chocolate chips
toasted pecans
additional caramel sauce

* I discovered this caramel sauce on her site a year (maybe 2) ago and have made it MANY times. It has always worked for me and therefore I couldn’t bear to try something else in my Turtle Cheesecake recipe! I use equal parts of Coconut Sugar and Unsulphured Molasses in mine, but in most recipes, I do not add the extra salt to make it a true “salted caramel.” If you are following a Keto diet, the Coconut Sugar and Molasses are NOT Keto ingredients; HOWEVER, since the caramel sauce makes about 1 ¼ Cups and there is only 1 Tablespoon of each of those ingredients, I see no harm in it.  The carbs are still quite low, and a serving of the sauce is 2 Tablespoons, but 1 T. is really enough to drizzle over your cheesecake slice.  So unless you plan to DRINK the sauce, I don’t believe this recipe is something that would stall weight loss or throw you out of Ketosis.*

1.) In a small mixing bowl, combine all DRY crust ingredients.  Whisk or toss with a fork to combine and break up any lumps, before adding melted butter.  Add butter and mix well until butter is uniformly distributed.  I recommend a light spritz of a coconut oil spray or otherwise greasing your cheesecake pan, so the crust releases without issue. Press crust into prepared pan, going partially up sides for a thinner crust , or keeping all in the bottom for a slightly thicker crust.   

Technically, you do not have to prebake this crust, but I like to.  Put it in the oven at 350° for about 10 minutes (if you’re doing a full size pie/tart, you may need longer).  In my opinion, this makes the crust sturdier to better support the filling.  It also keeps it from getting soggy during the cooking process.

2.) While the crust bakes, start your caramel sauce. When finished, set aside to cool.

3.) In a large mixing bowl or a food processor, cream together cream cheese, sour cream, sweetener, and vanilla, until smooth.  If you start with cream cheese that is not room temperature, your cheesecake will be lumpy!

4.) Once you have a very smooth texture, add your eggs and egg yolk ONE AT A TIME. Pulse or mix briefly after each addition; you do not want to over mix the eggs.  In fact, you may still see some yellow around the edges of the bowl after the final yolk addition, and that’s okay.

5.) Pour HALF of your filling into your pan and smooth out surface.  Pour or scoop up to ¼ Cup of the caramel sauce randomly over the cheesecake surface.  {You want to be using room temperature caramel sauce here, not too warm, but definitely not too cooled.) Using a long toothpick, cake tester, or butter knife, swirl the caramel sauce into the cheesecake batter.
I also sprinkled one serving of Lily’s (Stevia sweetened) Chocolate Chips over the surface of the batter.  Add the remaining cheesecake batter to the pan, smoothing the surface (in the Fat Daddio pan I used, there was still 1/2 to 3/4 inch clearance of the pan over the top of the filling).  Tap the pan gently on the counter or stovetop to help release any air bubbles in the filling.

Instant Pot, IP-DUO, 6 Quart

**If using a pressure cooker (I have an Instant Pot IP–DUO, 6 quart electric pressure cooker), survey your set-up.  You’ll need a trivet to hold your cheesecake pan up from the bottom of your cooking liner.  You may also need to make a foil “sling” to go under your cheesecake pan during cooking which makes the removal of the finished cheesecake easier.  (A foil sling is just a long piece of aluminum foil, folded lengthwise into thirds or fourths to reinforce it and make it more like a strap. It should go underneath your cheesecake pan and come up high enough on each side that you can easily grasp it and lift the entire cheesecake out after cooking.)

The trivet that came with my Instant Pot has long handles, and my cheesecake pan has enough space on each side that I can just remove it with the trivet.  Just be careful doing this, as the trivet can also get hot during cooking.  Usually after a natural pressure release, it has cooled enough for me to touch it.  Otherwise, use an oven mitt or other protection for your hands. 

You will also want to cover your cheesecake pan snuggly with aluminum foil; this is to keep water from accumulating on the surface of the cheesecake. **

this is my trivet and cheesecake pan inside my instant pot

a little difficult to see in the picture, but the handle to my trivet comes up over the top of the pan by almost an inch, making it easy to lift both the trivet and the cheesecake pan out of the instant pot at the end of the cook cycle.

6.) Put your trivet and/or foil sling, and cheesecake pan into the pressure cooker and secure the lid in place, turning the pressure valve to “seal.” Use the manual feature to cook the cheesecake at high pressure for 50 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release for at least 20 minutes or until the pin drops indicating the pot is depressurized.   

7.) Open the pot and check the cheesecake; you will likely need to lift it completely out and onto another flat surface to do this.  If there is water on the surface of the cheesecake, tilt the pan and use a papertowel to soak it up.   
The cheesecake should not still be wet.  If it is, you will need to return it to the Instant Pot for additional cooking.  I recommend 3-5 minute increments to make sure you don’t overcook it; allowing for a natural pressure release each time.  For me the NPR was only 10 minutes or less after these small additional cooking times.
If the cheesecake jiggles a little in the center (no more than a 1 inch diameter), it is done and will finish setting during the cooling and chilling process.  

8.) Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before refrigerating.  I recommend refrigerating overnight; 4 hours is a bare minimum.  You can remove the cheesecake from the push pan after the first hour in the fridge,  or wait until you’re ready to transfer it to a cake plate or platter. I find it helpful to loosen the sides and crust with a butter knife before pushing up on the bottom of the pan.

9.) When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, warm additional Caramel Sauce and/or Lily's Chocolate Chips (for 2 servings of chips I use 1/2 tsp butter  - not margarine - and 1/2 tsp coconut oil.  Heat slowly and stir every 15-20 seconds, especially if using a microwave).  Drizzle caramel and melted chocolate over cheesecake. 

10.) Garnish with toasted pecan halves or pieces.  Because the pan I used is so tall, the cheesecake is also tall.  It was easily divided into 8 tall slices and no one complained about them being too small. In fact, a couple of people couldn't finish their slice 😊

I hope you enjoy this recipe! I have loved using my Instant Pot since I got it for Christmas.  Although this was the first time I made a cheesecake with this flavor combination, I have made several cheesecakes now and can't see ever going back to baking them in the oven.  In my honest opinion, the pressure cooker gives the best texture - somewhere in between a traditional New York style cheesecake and the super-creamy, no-bake varieties I grew up with.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


It’s an unfortunate part of life - not everyone is going to like you.

In second grade, I thought I was pretty popular.
I had a lot of friends – a large group of girls who I “hung out” with at recess, ate lunch with, and sat near in the classroom. 
Once a day I left my regular room to go to the A.G. (academically gifted) room for a few subjects.

Who knows how long "it" had been going on?
I discovered it one day after school as I was doing my homework.

Words like, “you’re ugly,” and “you eat your boogers;” only she spelled it “your ugly” and “you eat your baggers.”

I knew immediately who'd written on my brand new spiral notebook.

I was so proud of that notebook!
I’d just purchased it from the school store; it had 3 sections, instead of 1 like the skinny composition books.  It had cool dividers with pockets on both the dividers and the covers.  It was a “big kid” notebook and I thought I was hot stuff!

I’d been having trouble with the new girl for a little while.  {I’ll call her Tanya* for the purpose of telling this story.} She was fond of veiling insults as jokes and I was quite often the butt.  I always laughed with everyone else and tried not to let it bother me. 
It was rather confusing really; I honestly wasn’t sure if she liked me or not, but I got the impression it was NOT.

Yes, we were only in second grade.

I must’ve told my Mom some of this, because after discovering the notebook “decorations,” she promptly called my teacher.

Though I don’t remember the details of her conversation, I did sit beside her in the recliner as she talked.  Even now, I‘m a little surprised; my Mom and Dad weren’t into fighting our battles for us when we were kids {a practice I’ve tried to continue with my own kids}.  This was about 32 years ago, so I’m sure you can imagine it was a different time.  There were none of the “participation trophies,” and “everyone wins” mantras of today’s childhoods.  There also weren’t outraged parents lining up at the school every time their kid got punished.

Whatever Mom said, my teacher got the message that the bullying was not ok. The next day, the teacher called Tanya into the hallway.   
A little later, she called me and then made Tanya apologize.  

I’ve never felt so bad – so low.  Tanya was crying and her whole face was red. I felt terrible for getting her in trouble! The hypersensitive aspect of my personality often made me extremely compassionate towards hurting people – even if they were hurting because they hurt me first.

I guess I can’t know if Tanya was really sorry for what she did or sorry she got caught. But from that day on, until her family moved again, we were friends. She even attended my 10th birthday sleepover and that was a small group of girls.

This taught me at an early age, that sometimes you can be a nice as possible and people will still not like you. 

A few weeks ago, at the age of 40, I had a similar experience; it still baffles me, honestly.

I was dropping my daughter off at dance and had to ask a few questions.  I needed help from the lady at the front desk.
I wasn’t complaining and I ALWAYS, ALWAYS say thank you {sometimes more than once} to her every. single. time. she helps me with anything, no matter how small.
Apparently, I should’ve asked someone else for help with this particular request, but I honestly didn’t know that.
I was there to drop my daughter off for class.  Since I needed help with this other issue, I was in the lobby for several minutes – I’d say at least 10.

She had 10 minutes to let me know that Sweetpea’s class had been cancelled. 
 But she didn’t.
So I left my daughter there and went grocery shopping with my son, thinking I had 2 hours before she needed to be picked up.

A little while later, when I was completely across town, I got a call from my daughter to come back and get her. For some reason, I missed her call and got a voicemail instead.
When I called back, a second employee answered the phone.  She told me the class had been cancelled, a notice had gone out, and apparently I was the only one who didn’t get the memo.

This is a good time for me to say this: there is a serious communication issue at this business.  It’s been an issue for all of the 6 years we’ve done business with them.  They say it’s a certain email host that’s the problem, but my husband added his work email address to the list last year {totally different host} and he doesn’t get emails either.  Sometimes they come to my inbox DAYS after they are sent.
They recently started using an online message board system, which also doesn’t work, at least not without lots of finagling on my part. I get emails with a subject line letting me know about an addition to the class calendar and the body of the email is totally blank.   I sign in to the message board, search all the tabs and still can't see any changes.

Y’all? I am not technologically challenged! I've used all of these systems plus some for many years now.
Can I explain why everyone else got the notification and I didn’t? No I can’t.  I can say that now, I’ve downloaded the app for the site {which still doesn’t send me notifications} and I have gotten in the habit of manually checking the message board at least once a week so I don’t miss anything.  Isn’t technology supposed to make life easier??!!

So when I called back and a second staff person answered the phone, I was more than a little frustrated.   Unfortunately, my iPhone has a speaker issue that keeps me from holding a “normal” conversation on it. I can’t hear through the regular ear speaker – it crackles and the person on the other end sounds light-years away.  I have to use speakerphone or ear-buds but in my panic to call back, I just dialed  - no ear-buds. I didn’t want to talk on speakerphone in the grocery store, so I struggled through a regular conversation and, of course, 
couldn’t hear very well.

Even in my frustrated state, I do think I remained calm and was very polite.  I explained that I wasn’t nearby and that I would be back to get my daughter as soon as possible.
I’m guessing she got the impression that I was mad.  I really truly wasn’t, just frustrated; plus, I couldn’t hear her very well.

Anyway, a few minutes later my daughter was about to round the corner when she heard the two employees talking.
#1: “yeah, well, Sweetpea’s mom isn’t very nice…”
#2: “she can complain all she wants about not getting emails, but…”
#1 “WE aren’t going to do anything about it.”

When I picked up my daughter, employee #2 apologized to me in a sugar sweet voice about the mix-up. I thanked her and we were on our way.
We got in the car and Sweetpea says, “I don’t think she’s very sorry!”

I turned around and saw my sweet 12-year-old girl red in the face and looking more angry than I’d seen her in a long time – maybe, ever.
That’s when she recounted the entire ordeal to me. I kept checking her face in the rearview mirror on the drive home - boy was she mad!

Which was worse? The confirmation that they didn’t like me?  Or the fact that my pre-teen daughter had to be the one to overhear it? I can’t say really.

In hindsight, it was the “perfect storm” of events that cause conflicts. I later found out another employee had gotten her dates confused and not shown up for work that day. Employee #1 had to stay in her place.  I’m sure she was already having a not-so-great day before I got there with my list of questions and "needs." 

The upside was the conversation opportunities I had with Sweetpea.  I truly was able to find some positives in the situation and use it as a learning experience for both of us.

It was also very timely when, just a few days later, I received an invitation to participate in a new book launch for Lysa TerKeurst.
It’s called Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely.

One advantage of being on the launch team was access to the first 5 chapters before it was available to most people.  So far, I LOVE it!
There are so many great takeaways from the book and, really, they apply to everyone.

We’ve all been there…feeling rejected…lonely… unliked…uninvited…unwelcome; haven’t we?

Lysa gives practical advise for keeping perspective in the moments when it can be so difficult.

The book is officially available this coming Tuesday August 9th, but I would bet you can still get it on pre-order status and it will ship immediately.  I actually received mine yesterday.

If you like the book or any of the ideas in it, share it with a friend!  
Learning to live like the loved child of God we are is a valuable tool in a world that can be cruel.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fear of the burn...

Have you ever watched a movie drowning scene? 
What did you notice about it
If you've seen more than one, how were they alike or different?

A few scenes come to mind for me & here's what I've noticed...

Some characters are living joyfully, when something goes wrong. They may be enjoying the maiden voyage of the greatest ship ever built.  They may be at camp with other teens, swimming & playing in the water.  
Alternatively, they may be struggling; perhaps trying to steer a ship through a terrible storm, believing that, against all odds, they will prevail & return home to their families.  Perhaps even mourning the loss of a loved one & attempting to "join" them.

In many movie drownings, the victim's loved ones flash before through their mind.  They may even attempt to send mental messages of love to those friends or family members.  
Similarly, scenes from his or her life may come to mind.  Joyous times; fond memories; friends they haven't seen in 20 years; even regrets are things they reflect on as they realize they may be dying.
In some cases, the person drowning may panic; thrash around as they realize they can't breathe.  In others, they quickly accept their fate & peacefully wait to lose consciousness. 

In the past few months, I've come to realize that grief can be like drowning above the surface. 
One moment I'm moving through life & everything seems fine; the next, I'm gasping for air & kicking for the surface. 
I may panic & struggle trying to figure out what happened & how I got there.  "Where did this speeding bullet come from & why did it hit me now?" It's like the perfect storm of emotions hitting me at once.

Some days, I accept it as necessary & peacefully let tears roll.  Maybe a song reminds me of the loss of my Father in Law.  Perhaps a story reflects the relationship he had with my kids & husband.  

Sometimes, it might be my own regrets.  The last time I saw him, he was so tired & frail.  I spoke to him, but barely.
I was uncomfortable & didn't know what to say.  I wanted to be hopeful - for all of us - that we'd get through it.  That though we were traveling a bumpy road, we would eventually make it - through healing. 
I know my Father-in-Law was healed, just not in a way that he could stay here with us.

Had I known it would be my last opportunity to talk to him, I like to think I'd have chosen differently.

When I was 8 or 9, our family was visiting relatives at Lake Gaston.  Three of my uncles had second homes there & boating, skiing, tubing, & other water activities were available to entertain us for hours. We spent time there regularly throughout my childhood.

On this day, I was afraid of the water.
In fact, I can't remember a time in my life when I've felt confident jumping in & splashing around like most kids.

I was standing near the end of the pier & my Dad was trying to coax me into the water.  He stood in the water, showing me how deep it was (or wasn't).  He held his arms up & told me repeatedly he'd catch me.  I just had to jump.

I can't say how many times I took a step or two but could never actually leave the pier.  I may have even said, "ok, I'm gonna do it this time" - MANY times. 
I think Dad may have said, "come on! Don't you trust me?"
Eventually, the frustration was too much for my younger brother so he just pushed me off, surprising all of us.
Even though Dad was standing there, somewhat ready, it happened so fast that I plummeted right through his arms.  He reached down & grabbed me, pulling me up as soon as he could, but not before I swallowed quite a bit of water.

I can remember the feeling so well: my heart skipped a beat & thumped hard from the fall; there was burning in my nose & lungs from taking in water; the terrible coughing that results from trying to regain normal breathing after that.  
I can recall a slight feeling of relief that I was alright.  That my Dad picked me up & got me out of the water.
But the burning! Oh it hurt!
And because of the burning - my current state of pain & fear - I couldn't appreciate that I was really ok.

That memory seems a good metaphor for life lately.
My difficulties aren't just because my Father-in-Law passed away, but I think that event has scared me from "jumping off" again.  
It's made me fearful of losing someone else I love, & I worry about that more than I have in quite some time.

Coupled with giving up my long-standing Pampered Chef business & a few other "small losses," losing a family member has put me in a position to question who I am & what I do...what I should do...what I'm "good' at...what I was created for.

I believe God created me for a specific purpose (just as He did everyone).
I even think I know what it is.

But every time I think I'm ready to jump in...move forward...I chicken out.  

I know that I'm safe.  That, even if I fall, my Father will catch me & lift me up again.  I hear Him saying, "Come on! Don't you trust me?"
Yet, I just can't seem to move forward.  Or, worse, I take 2 steps forward & 3 back.

I tell myself, "just do it!"

I know that trials & failures foster perseverance & perseverance enhances character {Rom 5: 3-4}.   I know that even if I fall in & swallow water instead of bobbing back up to the surface, my Father will pull me out of the water & I will be ok.

But it's that burn - the fear of the burn - that makes movement & trust so hard.

If you've been there, fearing the burn & refusing to move forward, rest assured you are not alone.  

I'm realizing that ALL things work together for my good.  ALL things includes grief, suffering, & sometimes fear.
I've learned that being "called according to His purpose," takes more than just desire.  "Experience" in this life comes best the same way learning does; we learn more from our mistakes than when we "get it right."
I'm still learning that head knowledge & heart knowledge are separated by a chasm as wide {or wider} than the Grand Canyon.  That as much as I know, that I know, that I know that God's purpose is for my ultimate good, my fear can still keep me paralyzed. 

When I find myself gazing out over that canyon between my head & heart, I turn to verses like these; I hope you'll find them helpful as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

{When you don't know what it all means...}

There's something wrong with my mouth.

Well, actually, there are several somethings wrong with my mouth.  I'm really trying to figure out if God is trying to tell me something about my mouth.

Maybe there's a life lesson in there somewhere?

Not in my mouth.  In the experience.

A couple of months ago, on my 40th birthday no less, I woke up in horrible pain. I cried because it hurt so badly.  And maybe a little because I had been awake in pain most of the night. Ibuprofen was not TOUCHING this pain, friend. 

So on my birthday, I spent a few hours dealing with dental issues and visiting a strange dental office because my dentist was out of the office recovering from his own surgery.
The dental visits on that day revealed a serious infection under my gum and tooth; after I did a round of antibiotics to clear the infection I needed a root canal.

Fast forward about 6 weeks and 3 more dental appointments, and the list of dental needs has grown:
  • the root canal tooth needs a crown  - like, yesterday.
  • My dentist won't do the crown until I have my wisdom teeth CUT out {I've procrastinated on this for 2 years}.
  • Once my wisdom teeth have been removed, I need to wait a few weeks for the shifting that will occur with all the teeth in my mouth before getting the crown.
  • a temporary crown is not an option for me
  • I'm still procrastinating on scheduling all of this 
So,  my mouth is a mess - pretty much like the rest of me right now.  It's probably psychosomatic but I'm telling you, my mouth and jaws hurt ALL.THE.TIME.

I've mentioned before that I feel like I've lost my voice - the figurative one.  The one I use for writing and communicating beyond the necessary day to day talking.
I've drafted several posts in the last few months that I just can't seem to complete in order to publish and share them. Paragraphs without endings, posts with no connecting words or finishing thoughts, odd ramblings that I couldn't seem to make sense of, much less help someone else make sense of.

A week or so ago, I nearly lost my voice, literally, due to a cough and cold. That seems like a big hint from God that he wants me to shut my mouth, right?

As these "mouth issues" continued to pile up, I prayed,

"Lord, are you trying to tell me something? WHAT are you trying to tell me? Do I need to shut my mouth? Am I not using my 'voice' the way you want me to?"

I'm really not sure of the answer, but I will hesitantly say this.
These past few months of crazy hard stuff have brought me poems and lyrics {songs? I don't know} from out of nowhere.  Most of them I can't even write down quickly enough when they come to mind.  Some spill out easily, others I have to revisit and edit later.  Some I think are pretty good looking back on them, others I'm not so crazy about.

It's a little frustrating because I think some of them would actually make great songs, but I don't write music so all I have are lyrics.  What do I do with those alone? I don't play an instrument so I literally have NO WAY to craft these words into songs.

Maybe it's another way God wants me to use my voice.  At this point, I'm still not sure.

As much as I hate not having answers, I think I may just be in a season of questioning. 
I can't say I'm ok with that, but I'm learning to live in it.  I think part of life is learning to just BE where you are, when you are.  
That may sound confusing, but in today's world so many people do not know how to just be present and grateful.  Regrettably, I'm one of those people.

So instead of using my mouth to question God aloud or do much talking of any sort, really, I'm asking questions through prayer.  
I'm using my fingers again to share my jumbled thoughts here {it seriously feels so good to type!}. 
I'm trusting that He who works all things together for my good is refining me into someone new and that He will tell me how He wants me to use my voice.  

With or without my mouth.