Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

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There was a large pile of unopened mail waiting for me at home upon my return from China a week ago. It took me a few days to sort them all out.  It’s quite a chore, but sometimes there are pleasant surprises within the pile.  A couple of days ago, I opened a package and found a bottle of Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter and a bottle of dry roasted peanuts from New Zealand.  Our whole family have been enjoying the peanut butter in the past couple of days. We love the pure and intense peanut flavor in this very simple and delicious peanut butter with only two ingredients – peanuts and sea salt. I have written in previous blogs about my love for peanuts, be it peanut chocolate fudge or peanut chocolate ice cream pie or noodles with Asian peanut sauce. There is definitely a peanut loving gene in my body.

I made a spicy Thai peanut dip for the okra that I found in the farmer’s market. I blanched the okra in boiling water for less than a minute. I then rinsed it in cold water and drained it. Within 10 minutes there was a simple, satisfying low carb meal on the table. You can use the dip for any number of vegetables of your choice: carrots, celery, turnip, cucumber… You can even use it as a sauce for noodles.  

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter)

1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha (depending on how spicy you want the dip to be)

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)

1/4 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

1 teaspoon pure sesame oil (optional)

Chopped green onion, crushed peanuts and chili peppers for garnish

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Preparation:

Using a big spoon or your fingers, mix all the ingredients together. Garnish with chopped green onion and chili flakers.

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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Yuba Noodle Salad with Crunchy vegetables

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The few things that I never allow to run out in the fridge are Hodo Soy tofu and yuba, along with milk, Fage and eggs.  In a household with two growing vegetarian teenagers, we cook tofu 4 times a week.  Tofu is versatile, nutritious and relatively easy to prepare.

Today, Peter called me around noon to say that he had a little time and could come home to have lunch with me.  “I am wrapping up a case and should be home in 15 minutes,” he said.  There was plenty of leftover in the fridge of course, but I wanted to serve him something fresh and tasty.  Since his office is only a 5-minute drive from home, I want to encourage him to come back for lunch more often now that I am home.

I went for the yuba noodles in the fridge after I hung up the phone with him.  It took me about 10 minutes to slice the carrots, cucumber, cilantro and green onion.  Toss them with the yuba and viola! you have a beautiful and healthy lunch.  I even had time to put a little make-up on for him.  Peter was very impressed with this delicious dish that seemed to have magically appeared in a matter of minutes. 

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Yuba Noodle Salad

Ingredients:

1 pack HodoSoy spicy yuba

1 cup julienned carrots

1/2 English cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup sweet snap peas, thinly sliced

1/4 cilantro leaves

1 red jalepeno, thinly sliced (optional)

1/4 red onion, slivered

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1/2 stock green onion, the white end, chopped

1/4 teaspoon finely ground Sichuan peppercorn (optional)

2 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoon fresh lime or lemon juice

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Preparation:

Prepare the vegetables.  Open the package and break up the yuba from the package.  Mix everything together in a salad bowl.  Top with chopped green onion and sesame seeds before serving.

Note:

You can sauté the whole Sichuan peppercorn with 2 teaspoon of and discard the peppers after they are brown and aromatic.  Save the oil for the salad.  Or you can simple finely grind the peppercorn and add to the salad. 

Add a little salt or soy sauce if you prefer your salad a little saltier.  I added no salt or soy sauce and the salad was perfect.

If you don’t have lime or lemon juice, just use more rice vinegar.

You can also use other crunchy vegetables of your choice such as radish and celery.

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You can also try my other 10-minute tofu salad by clicking on this link.

No-bake Mango Cheesecake & Milk

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My older daughter Angela and I were invited to a tasting party at Namu Gaji organized by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), creator of the iconic got milk? campaign. The current theme is Food loves Milk, which promotes the pairing of milk with different kinds of food.  I was instantly interested not only because of the novel and intriguing pairing of Korean fusion food with milk, but also because I have always tried hard, and often times without success, to make my vegetarian daughters drink more milk.  Since I’m filming in Malaysia, Angela went to the event with a friend. 

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Don’t know why she sent me a photo with her face covered and her friend’s face half cut off.

Angela hasn’t been communicating with me much lately.  Sometimes when I FaceTime my husband Peter, she would say hi and bye in passing.  So I was really happy to see more than 20 messages with many pictures from her yesterday about the got milk? dinner that she attended.  Apparently she had enjoyed the experience very much. From the menu and the pictures she sent me, Chef Dennis Lee’s food looked amazing.

“You’d be glad because I drank a lot of milk,” she texted me.  Angela doesn’t like milk.  “The Korean food they served was spicy,” she explained.  I laughed, thinking that it was a successful pairing because it got Angela to drink milk with her meal.

Growing up in Communist China in the late 60s, milk was a luxury food.  Each family in Shanghai was rationed to have one small bottle of milk a day.  And during milk shortages, we would not get any milk for days on end. In those years, the first thing I did after I got up was to run to the door and see if there was a bottle of milk waiting for me. I love milk.  My husband, who was also born in China, drinks a glass of milk with his dinner every evening like a growing teenager.  Neither of us drink wine.  I suppose we have been doing the food milk pairing a long time before this campaign. 

It’s mango season here in Malaysia. I made a No-bake Mango Cheese Cake yesterday and had a slice of leftover with a glass of milk for breakfast today.  Delicious.

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No-bake Mango Cheese Cake with Chocolate Granola Crust

Ingredients or the crust:

3 packs Nature Valley crunchy granola bars (crushed into tiny pieces)

2 tablespoon 100% cocoa power

1 tablespoon Molasses Sugar or brown sugar

3 – 4 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

You can also make this cake with the raw and grain free crust from my earlier post.

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Ingredients for filling:

1 large ripe mango (about 1 1/2 cup diced)

1 tub 60% less fat Philadelphia cream cheese (250g)

2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

45g sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

1 teaspoon gelatin

1/4 cup milk of choice for the gelatin (I used 2% milk)

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Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for crust and press into an oiled tart dish.  You can break up the granola bars by hand or in a blender.  I blended half and hand crushed the other half to give a varied texture.  Leave the crust in the freezer as you prepare the filling.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 tablespoon of water in a small bowl for 5 minutes.

Blend all ingredients for filling, except for the 1/4 cup of milk.

Heat the 1/4 cup of milk in the microwave 40 to 45 seconds, and mix in with the gelatin until dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared crust.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 40 minutes before serving.

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Budapest Indulgence

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Last day on Tamas Farm

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First day on Tamas Farm, sharing screen with the lovely Audrey

I was very happy when our van drove away from Tamas Farm for the last time on the narrow dirt road last night.  So many of our trucks and vans drove back and forth on the dirt road kicking up so much dust that it felt as if we were in a dust storm.  As I sat in the departing van cussing and choking on dust, I realized that one day I will look at the pictures of the idyllic gently rolling meadow and miss the place, the people and the time I shared with them.  It’s strange how I had a premonition of the imminent nostalgia as our van sped away leaving behind a plume of dust.

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Audrey with Marco Polo

Someone in the crew commented that I had not updated my blog lately and I said I had been on set everyday.  She joked, “Get your priorities straight, Joan, we are waiting for your recommendations for the weekend.”  This is how a hobby becomes stressful.

So what’s new?  I have apparently indulged in too much heavy Hungarian food because I noticed that my costume was becoming very tight.  I love to eat and have a voracious appetite.  It is truly difficult to eat healthy if I don’t cook for myself.  Last night I decided to order “the big raw mixed salad” from “Gluten Free And Carb Smart Options” for room service.  When the “carb smart” food arrived, it came with a basket of assorted breads and butter.  What is one to do?  

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For dinner today, Audrey and I went to a restaurant recommended to us by a Hungarian foodie from our camera crew.  He gave me a list of restaurants and one of them, Bock Bisztro, happens to be downstairs of the hotel that we are staying in.  The restaurant has won many awards and is Michelin Guide recommended.  Since we didn’t have a reservation we went very early before the dinner crowd.  Everything on the menu looked interesting to me.  I decided on Ox Cheek Retro while Audrey ordered Csango Vegetable Soup and Salad with Parmesan.

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I looked at the beef poster on the wall that explained the different cuts while waiting for my ox cheek.  I thought of my husband Peter, whose favorite part of a steamed fish is the cheek — that tiny pearl of flesh appreciated only by the most discerning fish eaters.  It has been many weeks since I last saw him and I grieve for all the meals that I can’t share with him — a food lover like myself.

The ox cheek came with chopped pig’s ear served in a bone and a huge buttery Hungarian dumpling.  The braised meat was melt-in-your-mouth soft and tender with the most delectable sauce. 

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Audrey’s vegetable soup was lemony and creamy with cauliflower, carrots, peas, onion and baby spinach.  She loved it, but was so full after eating her soup with bread that she couldn’t finish her salad. I had a few spoonful of her soup and regretted it right away.  Though it was delicious, it was like drinking cream.

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Bacon flavored lard for the bread.

Off to the pool now to try to undo some damage.

Mongolia in Budapest

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There was a lot of waiting on set for me today.  I got picked up at 7:20 in the morning from the hotel and didn’t begin my scene until 4:00 in the afternoon.  I had a lot of time looking at the camels who were also waiting.  Though not in our natural habitat, the camels and I seem to be quite content and at home here in our make-believe homeland.  It was a luxury really, sitting idly under the sun without any guilt — technically I was working.  I act for fun, but I get paid for waiting.  Why didn’t I bring a book?  A book would have been perfect.  I found myself not reading as much as I used to.  There is simply too much distraction from everywhere all the time. 

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When the camels got up to take a walk, so did I.  There were miles and miles of undulating sunflower fields around where we were filming and they were breathtaking.  I sometimes hate waiting on set, especially if the upcoming scene is emotional because too much waiting destroys one’s readiness.  You end up feeing drained before you can even begin. Today I decided to luxuriate in the peaceful surrounds of Tamas Farm — it’s not everyday that I come to a place like this and I will never be here again when these scenes are finished.

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Audrey and I found a lovely little restaurant a few blocks from our hotel called KonyvBar & Restaurant.  It is a book lovers’ haunt where the chef creates his weekly specials based on the theme of a book that he has read and wants to recommend.  This week’s book is Gerald Durrel’s My Family and other Animals, an account of an English family’s experience in Greece.  The specials are all Greek, including dishes like Mother’s first moussaka and  Watermelon granita. The atmosphere is Zen-like and gentle.  It is a place that if you had to eat by yourself, you’d feel pretty comfortable sitting there with a book.  Audrey’s steak was excellent — tender, juicy and flavorful, while my beef stew, though redolent with great spices, was a little tough.  But I will definitely go back there again, even if just to find out about the chef’s next book and his new weekly specials.

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Taking pictures of our food has become a pandemic worldwide

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I found this painted wall across from the restaurant quite charming

Budapest Sunday

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Almost all shops are closed on Sundays in Budapest, but there are some markets and bazaars that stay open, mostly for tourists.  And that’s us.  Audrey fell in love with a dress in a street market called Gozsdu Bzaar.  After looking at all the stalls in the bazaar, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  From where we sat, we happened to be peering at the back of a stand where an old man was selling whistles and dresses — an odd combination that was later explained.  Pointing at a cream dress with little blue flowers, Audrey told me, “This dress looks like the one from Urban Outfitters.  I will show you.”  She proceeded to show me the dress on her phone and said she would like to try the dress.  While I sat at the table waiting for the food to arrive, Audrey went to ask the old man if she could try the dress in the lady’s room in the cafe. She came back to the table with the dress and told me that all the dresses were made by the old man’s wife.  So, that was why the whistle stand also sold dresses. 

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I ordered the roasted goose leg with red cabbage, which seems to be a national dish that most restaurants manage to prepare well. This one was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Quite delicious. But you see why I must skip dinner.

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From where we sat, we saw the back side of the whistle stall that also sold dresses.

Unfortunately, the pretty dress was too small for Audrey.  I told her to ask the old man if his wife could sew a larger one and we will come back in a couple of weeks.  Audrey came back and said that the old man said no, but his english wasn’t good enough to describe the reason why not.  It was either because his wife was leaving him or she was dead.  I thought that was strange and went to talk to him again after lunch.  He told me again that his wife was leaving him. “Tomorrow,” he added, flapping his arms.  We finally understood that she was leaving for vacation tomorrow.

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The whistle stand. The dress behind the old man is the one Audrey wanted.

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This stand sold little candle shades that turn your wine goblets into candle holders. They are perfect for our wine glasses because we don’t drink.

Disappointment aside, Audrey found some lovely souvenirs and gifts to bring home. 

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After a heavy lunch, I made some more quick pickled radish.  This time I added onion, garlic, poblano pepper and paprika to the mix.  We snacked on the pickled radishes while watching Mrs. Doubtfire, which brought us back to the familiar streets of San Francisco.  The film was shot in and around a house only a few blocks from our home.

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I have to get up at 4am tomorrow for my first day shooting, and I must go to bed now.  I will share the recipe for pickled radishes tomorrow because they are really delicious.

The Best Sandwiches in the World Here in Budapest

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We might have found the world’s best sandwich joint on a narrow cobblestoned street in the old Jewish quarter of Budapest: Bors Gasztrobár.  We went there for the first time yesterday after our visit at the Hungarian National Museum.  Audrey doesn’t like museums in general.  The only one that she’s ever truly enjoyed was Musée Mécanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, where they exhibit clever mechanical gadgets and toys of a bygone era.  Visiting the Hungarian National Museum was not exactly something on her to do list here. 

Audrey was tired, hungry and in an irritable state after three hours in the stuffy museum.  It was a 15 minutes walk from the museum to Bors Gasztrobár, and when we arrived we saw a big crowd waiting in and around the tiny joint.  There was no place to stand, let alone sit.  I almost regretted going there. 

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Much to my relief, the line moved quite fast and the menu looked really interesting and enticing.  The atmosphere, too, was youthful and pleasant.  The two owners and their two staffers handled the orders with a light-hearted briskness, but nothing was rushed.  They acted as if they were the hosts of a party — just having a great time with their guests. 

Audrey ordered Ham Baguette, and I ordered French Lady.  We had wanted to take the sandwiches back to our hotel to eat, but they arrived piping hot in paper bags.  It would be a shame not to eat them right then and there. The Ham Baguette had in it veal ragout, hamburger sauce, home-made pickles and cheddar cheese, while French Lady had in it raspberry onion jam, roast chicken and Edamer cheese.

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Audrey’s eyes lit up when she took her first bite and devoured her 12 inch baguette sandwich in a matter of minutes.  Between bites she declared that this was the best sandwich she’d had in her entire life.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  Those sandwiches were peerless — perfectly crunchy on the outside, cheesy and saucy on the inside, and simply bursting with flavor.

Sandwiches are not something I usually get excited over, but the first thing Audrey and I uttered to each other this morning was how delicious those baguettes were.  I had a rehearsal today in the outskirts of Budapest and immediately after we came back, we went to Bors Gasztrobár.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon and the place was less crowded.  We ordered exactly the same sandwiches that we had eaten yesterday.  I suppose we will move on to other sandwiches eventually, but for today we just wanted to relived the experience of yesterday.  And amazingly we did.

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Let me not forget to mention the price.  It is just as unbelievably good as the food.  The most delicious sandwich in the world costs 780 forint, about US$2.80 each. 

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After all the heavy restaurant food that we have been eating, I had a craving for pickles.  Since I didn’t have a mason jar, I made a quick pickled radishes in the mugs.

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Pickled Radishes

Ingredients:

1 bunch fresh radishes, thinly sliced

1/2 small daikon, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

Radish leaves, tender parts only

1 cup or more rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon sugar

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Preparation:

Mix the vinegar, salt and sugar in a container.  Marinate the carrots and radishes for 30 minutes or longer.

We discarded the marinade and and squeezed a little lemon juice on the radishes.  Then we ate them with the tender radish leaves like a salad.  It was a much needed and refreshing change from the heavy Eastern European diet that we’ve been keeping.

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Smart Soup and Gluten-free, Low-fat Cornbread

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We received a FedEx package from Smart Soup today.  Smart Soup is a family owned business that makes healthy flash-frozen soups that are vegan, low-sodium, low-fat and American Heart Association certified.  Our family has been invited to try the soups because we have been sharing and advocating healthy meals through our blog.

There were five different flavors of soup in the package and we tried Santa Fe Corn Chowder today together with my healthy cornbread.  They were absolutely delicious together!  The hint of sweetness from the cornbread nicely complements the slight spiciness of the soup.  As I tasted the flavorful soup, I imagined that the soup would go well with many of my recipes, such as Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Quinoa Chickpea Avocado Salad or Salmon Burger

Receiving these healthy soups gave me the idea that I should stock up the freezer with them when I am away on location.  They are made of ingredients that I can trust.  The girls can just make a salad or bread and pop a pouch of soup in the microwave.

Oh yeah, and I can stock up Angela’s freezer with the soup packages when she goes to college.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  How is this even possible — my big-headed baby is going to college in just over a year! 

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Gluten-free Low-fat Corn Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup corn meal (whole grain)

1 cup almond meal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

1/4 cup Xylitol or sugar (I used xylitol)

4 oz organic no sugar added apple sauce

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)

Fresh corn kernel from 2 ears of corn

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 380.  Grease an 8×8 baking pan. 

Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly together in a mix bowl.  Add all the wet ingredients and the fresh corn kernels in and mix.  Do not over mix.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Lobsters and Love Junkee

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Costco is one my favorite stores in the world.  It has everything.  A friend once said to me, “If Costco doesn’t carry it, we don’t need it.”  I probably wouldn’t go so far, but I could certainly live quite happily with what Costco offers.  Not only I buy daily staples like milk, eggs and bread, I also buy my fancy food items there.  Today, I bought 6 huge fresh lobster tails for about 40 dollars.  They are so fresh and sweet that they could be enjoyed plain.  I think I have managed to find the perfect foil to the perfect food through this salad.

Citrus Lobster Salad with Avocado and Arugula

Ingredients:

4 fresh lobster tails

4 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon table salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 mandarin oranges (or other citrusy fruits such as orange and pink grapefruit) 

1 1/2 firm-ripe California avocado

2 oz baby arugula

Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

Preparation:

Boil water in a large steamer.  When the water is boiling, put in the lobster tails.  Steam for 10 minutes.

When lobster is cool enough to handle, peel the shells and remove the veins on the back of the lobster.  Cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices and chill lobster in covered container. 

While lobster chills, stir together shallot, lemon juice, and table salt in a small bowl and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Add oil in a stream, whisking.

Peel mandarin oranges. Halve avocado lengthwise, discarding pit and peel.  (Save 1 half, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for another use.)

Divide avocado and all of lobster meat between 4 salad plates and arrange mandarin orange slices around them. Top with arugula and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (if using) and serve immediately.

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After taking the pictures of my lobster salad, I turned my camera toward Audrey, who was staring at the computer screen in her newly acquired torn jeans and statement tees.  I was surprised by how mature she grew over night, on the cusp of adolescence.  We are lucky we live in the digital era when we can easily preserve in frames the fleeting moments of our children’s lives.

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Audrey’s new clothes were generously provided by Love Junkee, which was described by Angela’s friends as being “like Brandy Melville, but cooler and not overpriced.”

Recipe inspired by Epicurious