Brandied Cherry Garcia Fro-Yo

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Last night, Peter and I went to the CPMC 2020 Gala to support the construction of the new hospital. The event was sponsored by Chanel and I think it was as glamorous as any hospital fundraising event could ever get. People couldn’t believe how well their doctors cleaned up.  So many people came to tell me how much they loved Peter. They were his peers, his former students, his patients and his bosses, people I had not met before, but I could see that they were sincere in their feelings. Talking to them about Peter made me happy and proud. It made the evening more meaningful for me.  Peter works harder then anyone I know, and sometimes I complain about his long hours or his sudden departure from a night out with friends because there was a heart attack patient in the ER. All parties are stressful for me, but last night the stress was worth it. It was wonderful for me to know that he is well appreciated by so many.  But I think what truly sustains Peter is not just people’s appreciation.  Medicine is his life’s passion.

Peter has a sweet tooth, but he needs to watch his sugar intake.  I made this very low sugar, low fat, but really yummy treat for him. He had a couple of scoops after dinner and told me that he was feeling the effect of the brandy even though I cooked it. I guess I will not feed this to the girls.

I have made different versions of the healthy cherry Garcia fro-yo before. Today, I made it with brandied cherries to give it a more luxurious and decadent taste.

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Homemade Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt

Ingredients:

2 cups fat free plain Fage or Greek yogurt of choice

4 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

A pinch of salt

1 packs Stevia

1 cup 2% milk or milk of choice

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup brandied dried cherries

4 to 5 tbsp shaved 86% dark chocolate bar

Preparation:

Soak the dried cherries in about 1/2 cup brandy and 1/4 cup water until rehydrated. Boil on high until the liquid is reduced to syrup. 

Chop or shave the chocolate.

Blend everything except chocolate and cherries in a blender.

Pour the yogurt mixture into the ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, pour the content into a large ziplock bag with the cherries and chocolate.  Lay it flat in the freezer for 20 minutes or until solid but not hard.  Squeeze the bag to mix the fro-yo before serving.

Let the machine churn for about 10 minutes. Slowly add the shaved chocolate and 3/4 brandied cherries as the machine churns.  Save about 1/4 cup of the cherries in brandy syrup to drizzle over the fro-yo when serving. Let churn until the ice cream is desired consistency.

Note:

If you like your fro-yo tart, use 2 1/2 cup of Greek Yogurt and 1/2 cup of milk.

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

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We are having the balmiest early spring here in San Francisco. I decided that it was a perfect day for a refreshing salad when I saw the beautiful, tender bulbs of fennel in the neighborhood grocery store. I love fennel. If you have not yet tried fennel salad, you ought to. For me, the best way to prepare fennel is marinating it in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple, but perfect. I usually serve it with Burrata cheese, but decided to serve it today with avocado, orange slices and grapefruit slices.  It was crunchy, creamy, sweet, tangy and savory all at once. My favorite salad just got better.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

Ingredients:

2 heads fennel, thinly sliced

1/2 to 2 avocado, sliced

1 orange, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1 grapefruit, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1/2 cup tender green leaves of choice (I used watercress)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon and orange zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel fronds

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Ingredients for Dressing:

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Salt & pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a shallow dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes.

In the meantime, slice off the skin of the grapefruit and orange, remove the pith.  Save the juice in a bowl to use in the dressing.

Peel and slice the avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice on the avocado slices to prevent them from getting brown.

Mix ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.

Divide marinated fennel into four to six plates, top with orange and grapefruit slices, avocado slices, green leaves, fennel fronds. Drizzle with dressing before serving.  You need only very little dressing since the fennel is already marinated.

Note:

Use only very fresh and tender fennel bulbs for fennel salads. 

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Easy Cha Siu in a Rice Cooker

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I had never followed any cooking shows before taking on the role of being one of the judges for a cooking related award. The past two weeks, I watched dozens of food documentaries and cooking specials.  I enjoyed all the documentaries.  Whether or not they are well made, they brought me interesting characters and engaging stories. Cooking specials, on the other hand, were often boring or disturbing for me to watch.  I now better understand why they are called food porn. Our hedonistic hunger is supposed to be satisfied by the cooking shows the same way our prurient thirst is quenched by porn films. We get off vicariously by watching dishes being cooked with so much butter, cream, salt and sugar by the most upbeat and cheery people, who exclaim nonstop how delicious everything smelled or tasted.

It seems that our natural relationship with food has somehow been ruined by the diet industry, its nutrition experts with their ever changing theories of what we can or cannot eat. Food has become less about enjoyment and contentment, and more associated with guilt. Hence we have food porn.

Answering the question of what we should eat, Michael Pollan, a renowned food author, said simply, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By food, he meant that something your great-grand mother would recognize as food — a piece of chicken, a bunch of greens, a bowl of oatmeal or a slice of pound cake.  Energy bars with dozens of unpronounceable ingredients or Chicken McNuggets don’t count as food by his standard, I think.

I am not much of a food porn guzzler because I am quite content with what I eat. I don’t have restrictions or prohibitions. I cook what I want to eat. And cooking is a part of the enjoyment; it is the anticipation, the foreplay.

Today, I felt like eating a simple Chinese comfort food: cha siu, a sweet and savory roasted pork, on a bed of brown rice with stir fried bok choy. I discovered a great way to make cha siu — in the rice cooker for 12 minutes. It turned out tender, juicy and slightly charred at the bottom. It was delicious. (Am I not making my own version of food porn here? Am I not a nudist exhibitionist flaunting my food instead of my body?)

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P1050174Ingredients for Cha Siu:

2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into long strips about 2 inches in diameter

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon Lee Kum Kee Cha Siu sauce (Chinese Barbecue Sauce)

5 to 6 slices of ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the meat for 4 to 8 hours. Lay meat in a single layer in the rice cooker  and push“quick rice” button, or for about 12 minutes if you don’t have a “quick rice” button. 

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Audrey and her friends making S’mores by the fire. I have never seen an inkling of guilt in her when it comes to eating. I love watching her enjoy food.

Brandied Figs Breakfast Cake

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Audrey and I are driving to Tahoe today.  The week of President’s Day had been called Ski Week in Angela and Audrey’s school for a long time until it was changed to President’s Week for political correctness. We never took the girls to the slopes when it was Ski Week simply because Peter and I are not skiers, but I liked the sound of Ski Week. It sounds a lot more fun than President’s Week. Political correctness can be so dull sometimes, certainly in this instance in my opinion. A few of Audrey’s friends are on the slope this week and she really wants to join them.  Audrey will be learning how to ski while I drink hot chocolate and read. I got up early to make this delicious breakfast cake with brandied figs for us — after all it is Valentine’s Day and figs have been an aphrodisiac associated with love and fertility since ancient Greece.

There is no added fat in this cake other than the  natural oil in the almond flour, but the cake is very moist.  These Calimyrna figs are so sweet that you need very little sugar. We had this for breakfast, but it is also a great afternoon snack or a dessert. Try it. It will pick up your spirit and mood without feeling guilty afterwards. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Brandied Figs Breakfast Cake (Gluten-free, No added sugar, Low-fat, Nutrient-rich)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup almond flour

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoon oatmeal four (I made mine from oatmeal in my Vitamix)

4 to 5 tablespoons xylitol or sugar (I used xylitol)

1 tablespoon additional xylitol to make powered sugar for dusting

3 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt (I used Fage)

1 1/2 heaping cups brandied figs (see recipe bellow)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

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Ingredients for Brandied Fig:

10 to 12 sun-dried Calimyrna figs

1/2 cup brandy

3/4 cup water

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Preparation:

In s small sauce pan, boil the figs in the water to soften them. When they are soft, pour in brandy and boil a few more minutes on high until the liquid is reduced to half.  Drain figs and cut into thick slices.  Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 350c.  Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients well in mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs with vanilla and pour into the mixing bowl.  Add yogurt and mix all ingredients until it is smooth.  Add the figs and stir a little, but not too much.  Pour mixture into the baking pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center no longer sticks.  Cool on rack for about 15 minutes before slicing into 16 squares. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

I made powdered “sugar” in my coffee grounder with 1 tablespoon of xylitol.

In s small sauce pan, boil the figs in the water to soften them. When they are soft, pour in brandy and boil a few more minutes on high until the liquid is reduced to half.  Drain figs and cut into thick slices.  Set aside.

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Brandied Figs with Dark and White Chocolate

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Peter would receive many bottles of cognac, whiskey or brandy for Christmas every year.  Most of them stay in the cellar for a long time.  We have decades-old bottles sitting on the dusty racks waiting for a purpose.  Well, Valentine is in the air. I decided to put a bottle of Arakadz 7 star brandy to good use. These seductive, decadent and irresistible brandied figs will make anyone swoon. Try it. 

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Brandied Figs Filled with White Chocolate Truffles and Dipped in Dark Chocolate

Ingredients:

20 large dried Calimyrna figs (I used Happy Village Organic)

1 cup brandy

1/2 cup water

1 86% dark chocolate bar (I used Ghirardelli Intense Dark 90g bar)

20 Lindt White Chocolate Truffles

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Preparation:

Soak figs in 1 cup of brandy and 1/2 cup of water overnight. Boil the figs in the soaking mixture on high without lid for 5 minutes or so to reduce the liquid to about half.

Drain the figs. Using a small knife, one by one cut the butt of the fig just enough to push in the which chocolate truffle. Set aside on a plate.

Cut the chocolate bar into small pieces and leave it in a bowl. Boil water in a steamer.  Turn stove to simmer. Put the bowl of chopped chocolate in the steamer until melt.

Leaving the bowl in the steamer as you dip the figs one by one.  Put them on a greased baking dish or parchment paper lined baking dish. Leave it in the freezer for 10 minutes or leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer.

Serve at home temperature.

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Very Healthy, Very Lemony Fro-Yo

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It has been as warm as summer here in San Francisco this week.  After school today, Audrey picked some lemons from our tree and asked me to make her a lemon fro-yo.  She would have to write two papers and prepare for a test for tomorrow.  A special treat was definitely called for. 

This fro-yo is incredibly creamy and refreshing. Not only is it guiltless to indulge, it is actually good for you.  For once, you CAN have your cake and eat it too. Audrey and I finished the entire tub. I had to make a second batch so Peter and Angela could also have some after dinner. 

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Very Healthy, Very Lemony Fro-Yo

Ingredients:

2 cups fat free Fage or other plain Greek yogurt

1 cup 2% milk or milk of choice

5 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 packs stevia or more sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 tablespoons lemon zest & more for garnish

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

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Preparation:

Mix all ingredients except for lemon zest in a large blender. I used Vitamix.

Pour mixture into the ice cream maker and let churn for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve with lemon zest and crunch tiny candy hearts.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Baby Bella

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I am usually left out of the Super Bowl festivities simply because I don’t understand football. It has seemed an un-crossable cultural barrier for me as a Chinese woman.  While Peter cheers and curses, I’m either reading or taking a walk on the beautiful and deserted trails. I, along with the rest of the world will never understand the extent of the American Super Bowl mania.  Everyone is having a party today. I made the mistake by going grocery shopping after lunch and the lines for the cashiers were so long that I left without my grocery. On my way home, I saw the Buffalo chicken wing place on Lombard, which is usually quite empty, had long lines of people ordering boxes of wings to take home.

There was a box of baby bella in the fridge and I decided to celebrate the excitement of the day by making a Super Bowl finger food with the mushrooms.

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched the beginning of the show and was very moved by Lady Gaga’s National Anthem.  I am an American after all.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Mushrooms

Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz baby bella

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded parmesan

1/2 garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2 eggs, beaten

Honey Mustard Yogurt Dip

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or coarsely ground mustard

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon Fage Total or other Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Make the dip and set aside.

Heat the over to 410F

Wipe the mushroom with paper tower, cut off the end of the stems.

Dip the mushrooms one by one into the egg and then coat with panko bread crumbs. If there is not enough bread crumbs on the mushroom, repeat the egg and panko dipping one more time.

Lay the breaded mushrooms on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes based on the size of the mushroom.  Over cooking will result in sogginess.

Serve warm with the dip or with ketchup.

Happy Super Bowl Day!

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Braised Duck & Vegetarian Lettuce Cups

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Braised wild game bird

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Vegetarian Lettuce Wrap

One of Peter’s patients gave him two wild game birds as a present.  I couldn’t tell what type of birds they were.  They were a little smaller than a chicken, but from the slightly iridescent feathers that were deliberately left on the wings they looked more like ducks than chickens.  So I prepared them the way my grandfather always did on Chinese New Year’s eve during my childhood. He was the first original foodie that I knew. I wrote about him in a previous blog when I cooked Kung Pao chicken, a dish from my grandfather’s home province of Sichuan.

This duck dish is called 酱鸭 —  “saucy duck,” a traditional Shanghaines braised duck with soy sauce, rock sugar, wine and a myriad of spices.  My grandfather would always save the sauce from the braised duck and use it to braise eggs and extra firm tofu in the following days. They were the most delicious eggs and tofu I have ever tasted. Meat and poultry were so scarce that we wanted the taste of them to last for as long as we could.

The wild game birds were extremely lean, but not at all tough. Though this recipe is for ducks, these wild birds turned out absolutely delicious. I saved the sauce as my grandfather did and will use it to braise eggs and tofu in the next couple of days.

Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Braised Wild Game Birds

Ingredients:

2 small wild ducks (or 1 duck)

3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

8 thin slices ginger, separated

2 stocks scallion, chopped

4 star anises,

1 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn, separated

6 pieces dried orange peel

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup Shao Xing cooking wine

1/4 cup light Soy sauce

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 – 4 cups water or chicken broth

2 teaspoon honey + 2 teaspoon hot water

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Preparation:

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a dutch oven with 3 slices ginger, 1/4 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn. Brown the ducks on both sides.

When the ducks are browned, discard the ginger and peppercorn, save the oil. Set the ducks aside in a plate.

Add the last tablespoon oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, star anises, peppercorn, orange peel and sugar until aromatic.

Add soy sauce, wine, vinegar and water and bring to boil.  Return the ducks to the pot.  Turn the heat to low and simmer for one to one and half hour, turning the birds at half way time.

If you braise a whole duck instead of wild game birds, this recipe is for one duck.

You can cook ahead and let the cooked duck sit overnight in the fridge.  Let it drain completely before cutting.

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Vegetarian Lettuce Cups

Ingredients:

1 cup cubed baked tofu or smoked tofu (You can find them in most super markets. I used braised tofu from Chinatown)

1 cup diced jicama

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 red jalapeño, seeded and diced

3 – 4 shiitake, fresh or dried, diced

3 slices ginger

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1 head butter lettuce

Preparation:

Wash and dry lettuce leaves.  Set aside on a plate.

Heat oil in a wok on medium high. Add ginger slices and stir until aromatic.  Add tofu, jicama, pepper, frozen peas and shiitake. Sauté for 3 minutes.  Add minced garlic, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha and salt and stir for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Do not over cook because you want the jicama cubes to be crispy.

Serve with a little Hoisin sauce, topped with chopped roasted peanuts and wrapped in lettuce leaves.

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Braised Pork with Arrowheads & Shiitake

Braised pork is also a very traditional Shanghainese dish for Chinese New Year.  Last Chinese New Year, I made it with winter bamboo and tofu skin.  This year I cooked it with arrowheads and shiitake.

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Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers are another Chinese New Year staple.  The shape resembles that of a Chinese gold bullion. You can either make them with store purchased wraps or make your own wraps. We made our own wraps this year with chopped Napa cabbage and braised tofu inside.

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Yuba noodle salad

Yuba noodle salad is a simple, easy and delicious dish I make with regularity. Everyone in the family loves it.

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Mocha Roca Fro-Yo

Lastly, the dessert. There is nothing Chinese about this one, but it’s one of our family’s favorites.  I posted the recipe in a previous blog.  The only change I made today was to replace the almond roca with mocha roca.

Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma

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I love Middle Eastern food — the intensely aromatic spices, the fresh herbs and vegetables, the creamy tahini and humus… so rich and varied in colors, flavors and textures, yet so simple.

One of the perks of my profession is traveling to different film festivals in places our family might not otherwise have visited — San Sebastian, Capri, St. Petersburg, Abu Dhabi…  In 2008, our family spent two weeks in Turkey at the Antalya International Film Festival.  It was one of the most special culinary experiences we have ever enjoyed.  Turkey was the one country that we never had to mention to the restaurants that Angela was a vegetarian, because there were always a wide variety of tasty vegetables everywhere we went. 

Now that the girls are older, it is more difficult for them to join me on trips.  Nowadays when I travel, Peter has to stay home to take care of the girls.  Last night, he lamented that he hasn’t had a real vacation since our last trip to Europe together in 2013. I promised to bring him back to Turkey someday soon. But tonight, I brought a little bit of Turkey back to him in the form of Levantine cuisine.

 

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Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs

1 red onion, cut into large chunks

Ingredients for Marinade:

Juice from 1 large lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

A dash of cinnamon

Parsley for garnish

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Serve With:

1 bunch radish

1 long cucumber

8 oz. assorted cherry tomatoes

Pita bread

Humus

Fried eggplant

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Preparation:

Mix the marinade and marinate the meat for one hour to twelve hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Mix the marinade, meat and onion together. Layer them on a parchment paper lined baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes.

Let the chicken thighs sit for a couple of minutes before slicing them.

Top with chopped parsley and serve with cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, eggplant, hummus and pita bread.  Or you can serve with whatever salad or grains that your prefer.

Note:

When I made the fried eggplant, I microwaved the cut eggplant in a sealed microwave safe container for 8 minutes until it is soft and wilted.  I than pan fry it.  This way you don’t use nearly as much oil.