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Strawberries shine in a no-bake dessert

Recipe: Fresh fruit tops easy cheesecake bar

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Fresh strawberries brighten this no-bake cheesecake bar. Blot the halves before topping the filling. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)




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Berries, cream cheese and graham crackers are the main
ingredients in this dessert.

Cooking strawberries seems like a crime this time of year, when the fruit is plump and fragrant, fresh from picking.

Eating them plain is a treat, of course, but featuring strawberries in dessert seems like the best salute to spring. Shortcake is a popular option, but there's so much biscuit involved -- the berries always seem to get lost in it. I like this no-bake cheesecake bar better: It feels special, without a lot of work (or heating up the kitchen).

When buying berries, look for shiny fruit and a waft of strawberry fragrance -- that guarantees that they'll be fresh and fully ripe.

This not-too-sweet recipe is adapted from a Mark Bittman dessert that uses fresh whole blueberries, so feel free to substitute any in-season berry here.

No-bake strawberry cheesecake bars

Serves 8 to 12

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Firmly press in the crumbs with a glass
or cup.

Ingredients :

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 12 whole graham crackers)
1/3 cup pecan or walnut pieces, optional
5 tablespoons melted butter (use 6 tablespoons if you are using the nuts)
8 ounces cream cheese (brick kind, not whipped or soft), room temperature
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, drained if it seems watery
3 tablespoons agave sweetener or honey, or to taste
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 generous pint of fresh strawberries (I used 14 medium-to-large berries)

Instructions:

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Place big dollops of cheese filling on the crust, then spread it out.

If they're not already crumbs, grind the graham crackers fine in a food processor or blender, including the nuts if using them. Stir the melted and slightly cooled butter into the crumbs until fully blended. Using a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup, firmly press the mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square pan (glass preferred). Chill crust in the refrigerator while making the cheese filling.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, ricotta, agave or honey, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. A standing or hand mixer will give this is a nice fluffy texture, but stirring a lot by hand also works. Blend until smooth.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator and spoon large dollops of cheese mixture onto the crust -- this will make it easier to spread without picking up stray crumbs. Use an offset spatula or a knife to smooth the cheese filling evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

To prepare the fruit, wash the berries thoroughly and pat dry with a paper or cloth towel. When the filling is chilled, hull the berries and cut them in half. Blot each cut berry half on a paper towel before placing it on the cheese filling (see photo at top of post). This will help keep the berries from weeping juice onto the filling.

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One row berry cut-side up, but I prefer cut-side down.

I did try one row of berry halves cut side up, and that's an option, but I like the look of the dessert with the cut side down.

Chill for another hour. The cheese filling will set but remain creamy. Carefully cut into bars or squares to serve. (Using a sharp knife and a spatula the desired width of the bar works well.) This dessert is best consumed on the day it's made, but will keep in the refrigerator for another day or so.



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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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