Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

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There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.

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Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

Figs

Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

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This peach matcha panna cotta is not only yummy, it is light, healthy and good for you. Matcha is a super food that boasts a long list of health benefits that range from memory boost to body detoxification. I bought my matcha from Davids Tea. It is infused with peach flavor and slightly sweetened — perfect for making dessert.

The ingredients of this panna cotta is deceptively simple — milk, Greek yogurt, peach matcha powder, xylitol and gelatin. I made the dessert the night before and served it with sliced ripe nectarine as breakfast for Peter. A great way to begin the weekend!

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (4%)

1 cup full fat Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons peach matcha powder (I used 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, but if you like the matcha flavor more intense add another teaspoon or two.)

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 pack unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 ounce packet)

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Preparation:

Pour 1 cut of milk into a sauce pan or small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the milk and let stand for a few minutes. Turn stove on to low and heat the milk with gelatin as you slowly stir until the gelatin is melted. Don’t let milk boil.

Blend 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup xylitol and peach matcha in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted gelatin to the processor and blend until well mixed.

Oil the container before you pour the mixture if you will invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve. You can also pour the mixture into the bowls or cups and serve directly from them.

Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or longer.

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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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Coconut black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

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I went to a Vietnamese Chinese market yesterday and bought some beautiful and delicious tropical fruits.  The mangos reminded me of the ones that I used to buy in Malaysia when I was filming Marco Polo.  This morning, I made a coconut black rice pudding with fresh mangos for breakfast. Rice with crushed peanuts is a usual staple for breakfast in Southeast Asia. It is as ordinary as oatmeal in the West.  Of course you can also serve this rice pudding as a dessert.  For me, coconut and mango is a perfect combination, like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate.

I made my rice in the automatic rice cooker as I sliced the fruits. It’s simple and easy. I used the coconut milk beverage from the carton to cook the rice. And I drizzled about 2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk from the can on top of the pudding before serving. 

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Coconut Black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

Ingredients:

1 cup of Thai black sweet rice or Forbidden Rice

2 cups coconut milk, beverage from the carton

1/4 cup or more xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk, can

2 tablespoon crushed peanuts, optional

2 ripe yellow mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced (small, flattened oval shape mangos)

Preparation:

Pour the rice, coconut milk beverage, xylitol or sugar, vanilla in the rice cooker and let soak for 30 minutes before pushing the on button.

When the rice cooker turns to warm, let rice sit for 5 minutes. Scoop rice into serving bowls and top with fresh mango slices, coconut milk from the can and crushed peanuts if using.

If you like your pudding wetter and creamier, you can also pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut milk from the can into the rice cooker after rice has been cooked. Mix with a non-scratch spatula before scooping into serving bowls.  If you use forbidden rice instead of sticky rice, it tastes better in the creamier version.

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I used the left-over coconut milk from the can and the mango to make coconut mango panna cotta. I will share the recipe another time. 

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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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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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Buttermilk Banana Pancakes

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I hadn’t made pancakes since New Year’s breakfast, and when I saw the very ripe bananas in the fruit basket I decided to cook banana pancakes for breakfast.  What could be better than splurging on a tall stack of pancakes on a Saturday morning?

I added 1/2 cup PB2 powder to the batter for a hint of peanut flavor and for a dose of added protein.  If you are not a peanut lover like me, you can simply use all wholewheat flour and no PB2.  

Those pancakes turned out fluffy and soft in the center and crispy around the edges — absolutely delicious.

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Buttermilk Banana Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 cup PB2 or 1/2 cup more wholewheat flour

1 very ripe banana, meshed

1 large egg

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (You may need to adjust the amount of milk based on how large the banana is.)

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, melted (you can also use vegetable oil such as canola oil)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Sliced banana and toasted walnut for topping

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Preparation:

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Combine all the wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl, making sure that the melted coconut oil or butter is not hot.

Make a shallow hole in the dry ingredients and slowing pour the wet into the dry as you stir and mix them together.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium heat.  Scoop batter onto the griddle using either 1/4 or 1/3 measuring cup.  When the batter begins to bubble and the the underside is golden, flip it over with a spatular.  Cook another 1 minute or so for the other side to become golden. 

Serve hot topped with sliced banana, toasted walnuts and maple syrup.