Almond Flour Carrot Cake with Greek Yogurt Frosting

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Angela was supposed to find out about the Harvard admission decision at 2pm.  It was 2:20 when I received a distorted selfie of her with tears and snots running down her face; the caption read “I’m crying real Jesus tears.” My heart sank. Then I realized that there was another photo of her computer screen before the selfie. I could see her caption, “You can hear my sharp intake of breath,” but I couldn’t read the tiny words on the photo with the red Harvard emblem. I called her cell as I ran around the house looking for a pair of reading glasses; she didn’t pick up — probably still crying. When I finally put my reading glasses on and read the tiny words my heart skipped a beat: She got in! However, I still couldn’t believe my eyes and gave the phone to my younger daughter Audrey, “Does it say Congratulations on your admission to Harvard?” She was sick at home, but her eyes lit up when she saw the acceptance letter for Angela.

The first people I called were Peter’s parents, who were overjoyed. I told them that Angela would call them a little later. Then I waited for an hour and half to call my parents in Shanghai. My mother answered the phone and I told her that Angela got into Harvard.  My mother said, “Yes, I know. Your friend Shelley came to visit me yesterday and I told her Angela got into Harvard.” My mother suffers from dementia. I told her yesterday that Angela would hear from Harvard today, but she remembered it wrong and told my friend that Angela was already accepted. Or perhaps she is simply prescient.

After all the excitement was over, I immediately began to bake a cake for the celebration. This carrot cake is gluten free, packed with nutrients and guiltless to enjoy. it is a dessert that you can have for breakfast the next day with a cup of coffee. Almond flour contains enough fat that you may not need to add any other. I used a tablespoon of coconut oil, but could probably have omitted it.

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Almond Flour Carrot Cake with Greek Yogurt Frosting

Ingredients for Carrot Cake:

1 3/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown sugar or xylitol

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

4 eggs, beaten

4 oz apple sauce

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

1 heaping packed cup shredded carrots

Ingredients for Frosting:

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup fat free Fage or other Greek Yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar or xylitol

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8 inch cake pan with coconut oil

In a mixing bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl, mixing all the wet ingredients except for the shredded carrots. Slowly pour the wet into the dry ingredients as you stir and mix.

Fold in the shredded carrots and mix until even.

Pour batter into the greased pan. Smooth the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes before frosting. The cake tastes better after leaving in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Roast Eggplant & Spiced Chicken with Yogurt Tahini Dressing

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Angela has been selected as a winner of the National Merit Scholarship — one of the most prestigious awards for a high school senior. It’s a great encouragement and affirmation for her especially during this anxious time of waiting. The last of the college admission announcements will be sent out in two days. Every aspiring applicant, no matter how excellent his or her resume is, will get rejection letters — probably one of the very few true disappointments in their young lives. I suppose the randomness of life, and the inherent unfairness of it will be a significant lesson for them. On the last day of March there will be tears for these kids — tears of joy or tears of despair. Wherever there is hope, there is inevitably despair. In her book And The Pursuit of Happiness, artist Maira Kalman observed: “We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. That is what governs us.” Life is the axis between these two opposite poles. 

What can I do for Angela? Not much, other than what I have always done and always will — love her, be there for her at her beck and call. And of course, I can cook yummy food for her. Angela loves eggplant and this roast eggplant with yogurt tahini dressing is one of the best eggplant dishes I have ever made. It is a simple vegetarian dish that is extremely satisfying.

The spiced rubbed roast chicken was so delicious that tonight Audrey decided to forgo her vegetarianism for it. The meat is slightly spicy so she drank two glasses of milk to quell the heat. That was a major coup for me. I’ve always been a little worried about Audrey’s protein intake ever since she became a vegetarian about two years ago. 

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Roast Eggplant & Spiced Rubbed Chicken with Yogurt Tahini Dressing

Ingredients for Yogurt Tahini Dressing:

1 cup Greek Yogurt (I used Fage)

2 heaping tablespoons Tahini

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (Add a teaspoon or so if you like yours more lemony)

1 heaping cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber

1/4 cup chopped parsley, or cilantro, or mint (whichever is your favorite)

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

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Ingredients for Spice Rubbed Chicken:

4 skinless chicken thighs

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, more if you like it more spicy

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

A few dashes of cinnamon

A few dashes of pepper

Serve with sliced cucumber and radishes

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Ingredients for Roast Eggplant:

1 eggplant, sliced 1/2 inch thick (choose long rather than fat eggplant)

2 to 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Mix all the dry spices and salt in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 425.

Sprinkle salt on both sides of the sliced eggplant. Wait for the eggplant pieces to “sweat” (about 30 minutes) and press dry with paper towel. Rub olive oil on both sides of the eggplant and leave in single layer on parchment paper lined baking dish. If you use foil to line the baking pan, make sure you spray oil on it.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Rub with olive oil and then the spice mixture. Leave on parchment paper lined baking pan.

Roast the eggplant and the chicken in preheated oven for  22 to 25 minutes.

Mix all ingredients for dressing. Serve with the eggplant and the chicken. Garnish with chopped green herb and lemon zest.

Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

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The last two weeks of March is a nerve wrecking time for a lot of high school seniors. This is when college acceptance decisions are sent out to aspiring applicants. Angela has already been accepted to a number of great schools, but she won’t hear from her dream school until the last day of March. While outwardly she doesn’t appear to be too stressed, I’m sure the big unknown is not an easy place to be in. Children nowadays don’t wait for much. Everything is instant (the instagram culture.) I suppose this period of waiting is a good exercise in patience for them. But the uncertainty is turning out to be just as excruciating for Peter and me. Peter is usually a sound sleeper. He can fall back asleep pretty quickly even after being called by the hospital in the middle of the night. But he kept waking up last night; the anxiety of waiting has finally gotten to him. It’s not that we think Angela must go to her dream school to have a fulfilling life. It’s that we’d hate to see our child’s dream crushed. Sometimes, Peter and I fear that it’s risky for her to set her heart on a school that is so difficult to get into, but we also know that if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.

Instead of tossing and turning in bed, Peter and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn. We gave each other talk therapy as we pigged out. We both felt much better after our lavish and drawn out breakfast.

This banana bread is made with no added sugar, 100% whole wheat flour and coconut oil. (I used xylitol instead of sugar.)

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Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup mashed bananas

1/4 cup +1 teaspoons milk of choice (I used buttermilk) 

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

3 medium eggs, beaten

1/2 cup xylitol or brown sugar

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 350. Grease a bread baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients except for walnuts and cranberries in a mixing bowl.

Mix all wet ingredients in another mixing bowl. You can use a hand mixer on low to mix the wet ingredients or mix them by hand. I used a mixer.

Pour wet into dry as you slowly stir until well mixed.  Add walnuts and cranberries and stir to mix.

Pour the mixture into the bread pan and bake for 55 to 60 minuets, or until a toothpick inserted to the center comes out clean.

Let the bread cool on the rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Put the left-over bread in a large ziplock bag to prevent it from drying.  This banana bread is low-fat and will dry if it is not sealed.

Alternatively, you can also pour the mixture into lined muffin pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

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Lately, I have been trying to feed Peter less meat. I either use small portions of sliced meat in vegetable stir-fries to enhance the flavor or I serve him the same vegetarian meals the girls have. I know he misses meat when he tells me to relax and not worry about cooking dinner. “I’ll order from Green Island tonight,” he’d say. Green Island is his favorite take-out place, where you can get three dishes of tasty Chinese food for $27. Peter usually orders the stir fried beef with vegetables, curry beef brisket and rock cod in garlic black bean sauce.  That’s how he gets his weekly fix of greasy, salty Cantonese provision. When I got a midday call from Peter asking if there would be meat for dinner tonight. I knew that it was time for me to cook a serious meat dish.

I had opened a bottle of good brandy some time ago to make desserts and there was still 1/3 of a bottle left.  I decided to use it in the marinade, but if you don’t have brandy handy, Shao Xing cooking wine will probably work fine, too.  The key is to marinate the meat for at least two hours, ideally 4 to 8 hours. The pork chops that I bought today were about 1/2 to 2/3 inch thick. If your chops are 1 inch thick, you will need to use 1 1/2 portion of the marinade. The pork chops will absorb and lock in every last drop of the marinade and turn out tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

Ingredients:

4 pork chops

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 red jalapeno pepper, seed and sliced

1 small yellow onion, sliced

2 to 3 slices of ginger, thinly slivered

3 tablespoons cooking oil, separated

2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar or rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Marinade:

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon molasses or honey

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon tapioca flour, or corn starch

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Preparation:

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pound the pork chops and poke holes on the meat with ice pick or the tip of the knife. Use your hand to mix the chops with the marinade and transfer to a large ziplock bag. Leave in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight. All the liquid will be absorbed into the chops as they marinate.

Cut a slit on the pork chop at the opposite side of the bone to prevent curling during cooking.

Heat 1/2 of the oil in a large cast iron skillet on medium. Pan fried the pork chops about 4 to 5 minuets on either side or until cooked through. You will need to cook longer with the lid on if your chops are thicker. The chops brown easily because of the sugar in the marinade. Lower the heat a little if necessary.

When the chops are done. Take them out of the skillet and set aside.

Heat the rest of the oil in the same skillet on medium high and sauté the vegetables. Stir for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Give it a few swirls with the spatula and turn off the stove. Cook the vegetables in two batches if your skillet is small.

Separate the sautéd vegetables into four plates and top with the pork chop. 

Or slice the chops before serving with rice and saluted vegetables.

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

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This morning, Peter and I wanted to take a walk but it was drizzling.  So we instead took a walk in the isles of Costco and came home with loads of food. For lunch, I made this hearty, soothing and yummy dish that was perfect for a rainy spring day. Peter and I loved it, and ended up having it for both lunch and dinner without even changing the plates or the utensils. Lazy Sunday indeed.

You can enjoy the fish “osso buco” over polenta or creamed potato, but I simply added the potatoes into the dish and made it a one pot meal. Very satisfying.

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

Ingredients:

2 6 oz ling cod fillets or other white fish fillets

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

1 1/2 cup halved or quartered red skin potatoes

1/4 cup marinara sauce

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

1 1/2 tablespoon tapioca flour or corn starch, I used tapioca flour

1 1/2 tablespoon corn flour or wheat flour, I used corn flour

A few dashes of cayenne, smoked paprika, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and basil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

In a large bowl, mix the tapioca flour, corn flour, the dried spices and a generous pinch of salt.

Wash and dry the fish. Rub with a little olive oil. Dredge the fish pieces one by one in the flour mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and a large skillet or a pan on high and brown the fish on all sides. Set aside.

On medium high, heat the rest of the oil in a wok, sauté the garlic and onion until aromatic. Add the tomato, celery, carrots and potatoes and stir for about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the marinara sauce and stir for another minute or two.  Pour the chicken broth into the wok and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Salt to taste.

Pour the cooked vegetables and all the juice into the skillet with the browned fish and return to stove on medium high. Pour in 1 cup of white wine.  Cook until fish is done, about 10 minutes.  (My fish is thick. If your fish is smaller, cook for less time.) 

Mix a little water into the bowl with the left-over flour mixture for dredging, and use it to thicken the broth if desired. The spices in the flour mixture also add extra flavor to the dish.

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Ingredients for Gremolata:

1/3 cup minced parsley

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced lemon zest

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced orange zest

2 clove garlic, minced

Preparation:

Use a grater or a vegetable peeling to get the outer most layer of the lemon and orange skin.  Mince the zest with a knife.

Mix the zest with chopped parsley and minced garlic. You can make gremolata up to 6 hours ahead and leave in the fridge in a sealed container.

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Empress Dowager’s Crab

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Empress Dowager’s Crab is a Chinese dish that most of you have probably never heard of — a scrambled egg with an unusual but delicious twist. I have mentioned in previous blogs the hairy crab obsession in Shanghai, that has in recent years spread to other major cities in China. People make this scrambled egg to satiate the craving for hairy crabs when crabs are not in season, or not in one’s budget.  Fable had it that the dish was invented one day when the Empress Dowager demanded to eat crab out of a whim. The royal chef had to improvise with eggs because there were no crabs to be found and he didn’t want his head chopped off. 

The egg white is to imitate the taste and texture of crab meat while the yolk the flavor of the crab roe.  Since the steamed hairy crabs are always eaten with a dark sweet rice vinegar and finely minced ginger, this dish uses the same unique combination of ingredients to trick the tastebuds into making the association with crab.  When I was growing up, it was made with only eggs, ginger, vinegar, salt and sugar, but the fancier version nowadays includes diced fish or prawns. I used ling cod today.

I have always loved eggs no matter how they are prepared — soft boiled, hard boiled, over-easy, poached, omelette, braised in soy and tea, steamed egg custard… you name it. Eggs are the most versatile food in the world, and today they are masquerading as crab meat. Traditionally the yolk is cooked slightly runny. Peter doesn’t like his eggs runny and I cooked the yolk a little bit longer, but still very soft. You mix the cooked white and the slightly runny yolk right before serving to let the flavor of the yolk coat the white.

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Empress Dowager’s Crab (Scrambled Egg with Fish)

Ingredients:

4 extra-large eggs, white and yolk separated and beaten

3 to 4 oz white fish or prawns

2 1/2 tablespoons dark sweet rice vinegar (CHINKIANG VINEGAR, Chinese supermarket)

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons minced ginger

1 teaspoon sugar, separated

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine to marinate the fish

1/4 teaspoon corn starch

2 tablespoons cooking oil, separated

Chives or cilantro leaves for garnish

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Preparation:

In a ziplock bag or a bowl, marinate the fish in the Shao Xing cooking wine and a pinch of salt.  Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to over night.

Beat the egg white and egg yolk separately in two bowls.

Pat dry the fish and dice into 1/3 to 1/2 inch cubes. Mix the corn starch with the diced fish.  Stir the diced fish into the egg white with a teaspoon of the minced ginger and a pinch of the salt.

Beat the yolk with with 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 loosely packed tablespoon minced ginger, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon minced ginger with 1 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Pour the egg white, fish mixture into the pan and gentle stir until the fish turns opaque. Put the cooked egg white and fish cubes on a serving plate and set aside.

Wash and dry the pan. Heat the rest of the oil in the pan on medium low heat, pour the yolk mixture into the pan and stir until slightly congealed but still a bit runny. Scoop the cooked yolk on top of the egg white and the fish.

Garnish with chives or cilantro leaves.

Mix the white with the yolk before serving.  Pour the vinegar ginger mixture into he dish if desired.  Give it a taste before deciding how much of the ginger vinegar mixture you need.

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Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

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Dessert before dinner is not a problem in this case.

These are absolutely the most delicious little treats made with the simplest and healthiest of ingredients.  When I was in Shanghai earlier this month, I made them for my parents, and they couldn’t believe that the decadent panna cotta was actually good for them.  Whenever I visit my parents, I pack food in my suitcases —  cheeses, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain cereal, decaf coffee beans… you name it.  My suitcases remind me of the ones hauled by the black market merchants during the era of food rationing in China. This time I brought them a bag of xylitol along with other novelty foods.  My dad has a voracious appetite and he loves sweets, but he needs to watch his blood sugar.  So xylitol was a perfect gift for him, and the panna cotta was a perfect dessert to showcase it. 

Looking at my dad chomping on peanuts in front of the TV, I knew I was doomed. It is amazing how one can inherit a penchant for peanuts from one’s father. There is definitely a peanut loving gene  in my DNA.  My dad is hard of hearing and talking with him is laborious for the both of us; so we shelled peanuts together while watching some Sino-Japanese war series on TV. It seemed that my parents are always watching the same battles being fought every time I visit them.  The Japanese invasion and the Chinese resistance must be one of the few themes that can pass censorship while still showing some scenes of sex and violence. I was able to make them happy simply by sitting with them. Nothing else was required — just my presence. I think only children have this kind of magical power over their parents.

Okay, back to the panna cotta. It is low fat, but feels extremely creamy in your mouth.  I made mine sugar free with xylitol and stevia extract.  Stevia extract is natural and has virtually no calories. I usually add a pack or two with about 1/4 cup of xylitol. If you don’t like xylitol or stevia, you can use 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar depending on how sweet you want your panna cotta.  

Everyone in the family loved the panna cotta not only because it is delectable and healthy, but also because home-made dessert means mommy is back.

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I found reusable yogurt bottles with lids to be perfect for the panna cotta. You can easily store them in the fridge for a few days.

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Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

2 1/2 cups Fage Total or other full fat Greek yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% organic milk or milk of choice or cream (I used 2% organic)

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 to 2 packs of organic stevia or 1 to 2 more tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 1/4 ounce packet) unflavored gelatin

Canola or safflower for greasing the containers

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Preparation:

Grease the containers (ramekins or teacups or bowls) if you plan to un-mold the panna cotta when serving.  If you plan to serve the panna cotta in the container that you make it with, you can skip the greasing.

Pour 1 cup of milk in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin in the milk, let soak until soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small sauce pan on low heat, stir the xylitol or sugar, milk and gelatin until melt. (Do not boil.) Let cool for 3 to 5 minutes.

In a food processor, mix together milk gelatin mixture, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, xanthan gum and stevia.

Pour mixture into desired container and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours depending on the size of the container, about 2 hours for small ramekins or cups and up to 8 hours or overnight for a cake pan.

To take the panna cotta out of the container, dip the bottom of the container in a pan of hot water for 5 seconds, or use a sharp knife to separate along the side of the container. Cover the container with the plate you plan to serve on and turn the whole thing upside down.

Serve with fresh berries and a dollop honey or maple syrup

Or

Top with brandied dried apricots

I made the brandied apricots the same way I made the brandied dried figs and the brandied dried cherry.

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