With the perspective that comes with distance (and maturity, one can dare to hope), I realize that I was unbelievably lucky when I was growing up. Though I spent years wishing my mum worked at something else other than focusing her laser gaze and brains on us, a happy result of that was a varied and healthy diet. She cooked from fresh ingredients and rarely fed us the same thing two times in a row. We weren’t allowed to eat leftovers until we turned ten. Picky (read:annoying as hell) though I was, I was forced to eat everything on my plate. Childish resentment aside, as an adult, I have only a sense of gratitude for mandatory exposure to every vegetable possible.
The pace of life has changed incredibly in the span of the last twenty years. What was once choice has now become necessity as both mothers and fathers everywhere need to work to provide for their families. Fewer children (I’m sure even back in India) have all day access to their mothers. Enter other agencies that step in to plug the gaps. Frozen food has become a multi-million dollar industry. Fast food is reducing life expectancy everywhere. The food provided in schools to children in order to save parents the time is not much different from fast food.
Some people argue that those (like me) who would like an embargo on the daily consumption of fast food as a full meal should take a look at the calories that they are consuming out of the home-cooked fare. Home cooked meals, they argue, aren’t much that much less in calorie content. The thing is, it is not calories that are causing problems in the growth of children everywhere. It is the preservatives, processing and quality of ingredients that goes into the fast food that is the problem. That, along with portion sizes. Heck, don’t take my word for it. I don’t even have children. But if you do and you live in the United States, you may want to take a minute to hear from a man who does have kids, has done oodles of research and knows what he’s talking about. Jamie Oliver spearheaded the change in school lunches in the UK. Now he’s hoping to do the same in this country, one with the highest obesity rates in the world.
The video above tells you in a crux about what he’s trying to do. Don’t think I’m getting carried away in a fangirl moment. Sure, he’s my favourite chef and I’m tickled that we share birthdays. But you’ll see that he’s making a valid and considerable point. Schools need to move away from serving processed food with quick-zap-in-microwave options. You don’t have to turn to fast food as a dinner option no matter how badly stressed for time you are. Quick fresh meals don’t have to be difficult or time-consuming to make, not even the indulgence of dessert. If one knows what is in one’s food and eats controlled portions of it, that is the best start to a well-balanced diet. There’s a place for salads and for dessert. Cooking your food instills in you a respect for the ingredients, and for what you eat. It allows you to balance excesses with abstinence and to listen to what your body is craving, whether it be a cleansing goodness of spinach soup or the comforting indulgence of home-made dessert. Made in your own home, with you in charge of quantities, it puts you in the driver’s seat, squarely responsible for your eating choices and that of your family.
His idea of this revolution does not mean you move to a diet of lettuce leaves and water. Nothing illustrates this better than the dessert section of the book, full of fabulous sweets. This particular recipe comes from the book that accompanied Jamie’s efforts to effect a change in what UK ate, Jamie’s Food Revolution. It is a no-bake cheesecake that requires probably about half-hour’s effort from you at best. The rest of the work is done by your fridge. I’ve tried out recipes before; for the flavour and spectacle that this one generated when juxtaposed with the effort it took, it has no equal. I made it for friends on Saturday and each one of them loved it completely. The best accolade the recipe could have received was that after a couple of spoonfuls, you forgot that someone had made this at home because it tasted as good as any professional effort. The piquant zests of orange and lemon and the heady spice of vanilla combine together to give the cheesecake fntastic flavour. The lightly whipped cream combines with the cream cheese to create a satisfying filling. A little bit of this cheesecake would be go far in fulfilling a sweet-tooth hankering. The fruity syrup on top is the icing on this cake.
Vanilla & Citrus cheesecake
Adapted very slightly from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
Makes 14 servings
For the crust:-
Quick cook oats – 1 cup
Graham cracker crumbs – 2 cups
Butter, unsalted – 13 tbsps
For the filling:-
Cream Cheese – 24 oz, softened
Lemon – 1, zest and juiced
Orange – 1, zest
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
Sugar, superfine – 3/4 cup
Heavy cream – 1 1/4 cup
For the topping:-
Blackberries – 4 cups
Sugar, superfine – 1/4 cup
Liqueur (St. Germain or Cointreau) – 2 tsps
- Butter a 9″ springform baking pan lightly and set aside.
- Heat a skillet on medium low. Add the quick cook oats to it and toast until a darkish brown.
- Cut the butter into cubes and add along with the graham crackers to the toasted oats. Stir until combined. Move off heat.
- Pour the graham cracker-oats mixture into the baking pan and spread over the base of the pan. Press in with your fingers to compact it into a crust. Place in the refrigerator to chill and set for about an hour.
- In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, vanilla essence, lemon and orange zests, lemon juice and sugar in the filling section. Stir together until incorporated and a smooth mixture.
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it just holds soft peaks. Fold half the cream into the cream cheese mixture until thoroughly mixed. Then gently fold in the other half.
- Pull the baking pan out of the fridge and spoon the filling over the cold and set crust. Smooth out the filling into the pan gently with a spatula. Move back into the fridge to set for another 45 to 60 minutes,
- Put the berries and sugar reserved for topping in a bowl and mix together by crushing the fruit with your hand. When you have a rough syrup consistency, add the liqueur.
Pour the fruit over the cheesecake before serving.
This is the very first no-bake cheesecake that I made. I can tell you now, with complete confidence, that it will forever remain my favourite. I cannot begin to tell you how well-received it was. I tried to tell my friends about the simplicity of preparation but I’m not quite sure they believed me. (I hope the recipe helps in that regard, guys!). Tasting it as I did in the end, I’m not sure I would have in their place. But that is just how good this is. Use good, organic fruit so that you get clean, non-waxed zest and good quality vanilla. I firmly believe that a little of the right, good thing goes much further in satisfying a craving than large quantities of the low-fat stuff. Give me a thin slice of this cheesecake over any quantities of low-fat store bought ice cream any day. Which, I believe, is part of Chef Oliver’s message.
For the topping, use any berries you like. You could even choose to use cherries. As far as the crust goes, I was in a bit of a hurry and used my freezer to chill it. It did the job in about 25 minutes and worked just fine. I loved the texture of this crust, the chewy oats interspersed in the crumbling graham cracker. The whole thing was sublime, start to finish! Adding the little bit of liqueur was my tiny touch. It added a slight depth to the fruit. Untopped with the fruit, the cheesecake will hold its own in the fridge for a few days if kept well-covered. Though I would suggest you do what I did and share this with your friends instead of hoarding it. They deserve the good stuff too!
I think sharing this recipe with you on my blog qualifies as participation in Chef Oliver’s ‘pass it on’ pledge. If you’d like to learn more about the goings-on in his US food revolution, you can check out this site. Or you could just go there to sign the online petition. I did.