Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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Avocado Toast with Kale Salad & Fennel Salad

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Audrey’s soon to be alma mater, The Hamlin School, put on a lovely musical The Wizard of Oz. I went to see it last night and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially considering the fact that they only had two weeks of rehearsal. The girls looked like they were all having a lot of fun, singing and dancing their hearts out.  I have always believed that anyone can act if he or she is given the right part.  And these kids proved me right. They were all impressive in playing the characters they were assigned to do.  According to Audrey, she had the most embarrassing part in the whole show — Toto the dog. She was in a thick furry dog suit, bouncing around and sweating like crazy.  I could tell that there were moments she subconsciously wanted to hide when she was on stage. I told her afterwards that, like anything in life, the only way to enjoy something is to give it all. According to Angela who went to see her in today’s performance, Audrey was having a great time prancing around with confidence.  

I made some yummy avocado toast with massaged kale salad and lemon olive oil marinated fennel salad for lunch — a perfect light meal to enjoy two hours before curtain time. Massaged kale is one of Angela’s favorite salads, while the marinated fennel is Audrey’s favorite. The ingredients are deceptively simple, but the result is refreshing and tasty.

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Ingredients:

4 slices of bread of choice

2 avocados, separated

1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, separated

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon or more toasted pumpkin seeds

A pinch lemon zest (optional)

A couple of mint leaves (optional)

A few slices of radish (optional)

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Preparation:

Make the massaged kale salad according to instruction in this link

Make the marinated fennel according to the instruction in this link.

Mash 1 avocado with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Toast the bread slices.

Spread mashed avocado evenly on the 4 pieces of toast.

Top the toast with kale salad or marinated fennel. Add thinly sliced avocados. Top with thinly sliced radish or mint leaves and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.

The recipe makes 4 servings.

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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The last week of May in San Francisco is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Today is a warm and sunny day that signals the coming of summer. Audrey and I will be going back to China to visit my parents when school breaks.  She will also be playing my character on screen in the flashback scenes.  We went shopping for summer clothes for our upcoming trip.  In a little boutique on Union Street, I saw the prettiest skirt in the whole wide world but they didn’t have my size. “I’m so fat,” I lamented. Audrey stopped me right there and said, “Don’t ever say things like that about yourself.  You are beautiful.” Did I sense some sort of a role reversal? She totally sounded like the mother between us when she said that.

After we were done with shopping, we came home and made these simple and delicious tarts with patriotic colors to celebrate Memorial Day.  They are healthy and quite guiltless to enjoy. For those of you who are allergic to gluten, They are also gluten free!

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Grease muffin pan well with coconut oil (grease only 8 cups and not all 12 cups)

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold wet into dry and knead until well mixed.

Separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal balls. Press into 8 muffin cups to create the shape of the tart shells. If you make 8 mini tarts, the shells will be thinner and shallower. If you make 6, the shells will be thicker and deeper.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cover the muffin pan with a cutting board and flip them over. Pat the back of the muffin pan with your hands to loosen baked shells from the pan.

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Yummy Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Broccolini

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Audrey left today for a debate conference and I really miss her, especially at dinner time.  She is representing China in the negotiation of the South China Sea dispute.  I was reading up with her on the history of the region and the involved countries.  It is amazing how biased most of the Western publication is against China.  So much of the original Chinese history and geography books and the maps that prove China’s sovereignty rights in the area have been completely ignored by the Western media, which is only interested in portraying China as an aggressor.

Audrey spent almost her entire spring break doing research on the topic.  As she read more and more about the issues, she began to worry, “Philippines and Vietnam are going to gang up on me, mommy. And Malaysia is not exactly on my side either.” Then she found out about the Gulf of Tonkin Agreement between China and Vietnam and got really excited.  She said, “We have both been benefitting a great deal from this bilateral collaboration. We can do it again!”  (Lately I have often been surprised by her casually uttering terms such as “bilateral collaboration.” I guess the debate lessons are paying off.) Audrey quickly dashed an email to Vietnam, expressing her wish to repeat the same success. As she found out more about the interdependence of the the nations involved, she wrote a few more emails to Malaysia and to South Korea.

The first text I received from her after she landed in her seaside destination was: “Landed safely. Lobbying went well on the flight.”  I had to laugh.  The Chinese diplomats should be envious of my 13-year-old girl, who seems to possess a natural sense of fairness and talent for negotiation and peacemaking.

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Audrey doing research with the help of a little home-made ice cream

Angela is working tonight at the take-out restaurant and will not have dinner at home.  I made this absolutely delicious prawn dish for the empty nesters. 

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Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Garlic Broccolini

Ingredients:

1.4 pound large prawns, shelled and deveined

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 tablespoon ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon packed minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced or graded ginger

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Ingredients for Broccolini:

2 bunches broccolini

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste.

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Preparation for Broccolini:

Remove rough parts of broccolini.

Heat oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Add minced garlic and stir until aromatic.  Add broccolini and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Add salt and stir for a few more seconds. Set aside.

Preparation for Prawns:

Peel and devein the prawns.

Add 1 teaspoon salt to the raw prawn and squeeze and stir with your hand for a minute.

Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and rinse the prawn in cold water.

Add the Shao Xing wine and let marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the Ketchup, Sriracha, soy sauce and xylitol or sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pat dry the prawns with paper towel and add mix with tapioca or corn starch.

Heat 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan on medium high. Pan fry the prawn to about 85% done on both sides. Scoop out and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and sauté the minced garlic, green onion and ginger until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the prawns back in and pour in the Ketchup Sriracha mixture.  Stir for 30 seconds to a minute and serve hot with garlic broccolini and rice.

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Merry Christmas!

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Christmas morning is Audrey’s favorite time.  She wrote down a schedule for all of us the night before — when to get up, when to eat, when to open the gifts and when to take a walk in Crissy Field…   None of us followed her program, and that annoyed her for a while, but she quickly forgave us.

 When I went downstairs in my sleep gown with my eyes barely open, she was already in the kitchen, preparing a sumptuous Christmas breakfast. 

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Looking at her busying herself in the kitchen like a pro, I felt that I was the luckiest mother in the world.  Being served breakfast by my sweet girl was the best Christmas gift I could imagine.  Audrey was all perked up while the rest of us were in our creased pajamas with our messy hair, but her excitement for Christmas was so exuberant that we couldn’t help but join her in feeling the holiday spirit. 

Merry Christmas!