“What About Something Sweet? Baked Goods!”

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These delicious cookies are deceptively healthy. They are gluten free, dairy free and packed with nuts.

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Andrew Ly asked me via Facebook “What about something sweet? Baked goods!”  So, Andrew, here they are.  I feel like I am showing da Vinci how to paint a picture since Andrew Ly and his brother founded the Bay Area baking phenomenon Sugar Bowl Bakery.

Andrew and his family, along with another 140 refugees, braved pirates and sharks on a ride in a rickety hand-built boat from Vietnam to Malaysia with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They were in a refugee camp in Malaysia for a year before coming to America.  They started a family bakery which grew into a 60 million dollar enterprise.  Their rags to riches story was singled out by President Obama when he came to San Francisco to give a speech about immigration a few years ago.

I understand the struggles of being uprooted and coming to a strange land.  I also understand the great opportunities that this land offers to all who are willing to work hard. 

I was not a boat person and I arrived US on a plane, but I also came to America with only the clothes on my back in 1981.  Though I was a movie star in China, I had no money.  I babysat, cleaned houses, and worked in restaurants to support myself through college. I, too, have come a long way.

Now, what about something sweet?  Baked goods!

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Walnut & Date Almond Meal Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/4 heaping cup almond flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 heaping cup chopped dried dates (I used very plump and gooey ones)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or almond oil)

1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 tsp Xanthan gum (optional)

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Preparation:

Combine almond meal, walnuts, dates, shredded coconut, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum in a large bowl.

In a small bowl whisk the egg until it is uniform in color doubles in volume. Whisk in the coconut oil, honey and vanilla.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and using your hands roll the chilled dough into two bite sized cookies and lightly press on the tops to flatten.

Bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet until the edges begin to brown – about 12 minutes.

Yields about 12 cookies

Adapted from: Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

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These nutrition packed cookies and ice cream are perfect for after school snack.

Slow-churned Raspberry Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 cup 2% milk fat evaporated milk (or any milk)

1 cup fat-free Fage (or other Greek yogurt)

1 1/2 heaping cup fresh raspberries

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

5 tbsp xylitol

1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

Preparation:

Blend all ingredients except for raspberries in a large blender until smoothly mixed.  Add raspberries and pulse for a second.

Pour mixture into the ice cream machine and let it churn for 30 minutes or until the desired hardness.  

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I know it must feel odd and inappropriate to show my socks with my yummy cookies, but I promised yesterday that I would demonstrate what the Kondo way of folding socks is like.  It took me less than 15 minutes to un-ball the socks that looked like potatoes in my drawer, and to fold them in a way that they can relax and I can see each and everyone of them at one glance. I actually committed a Kondo sin by beginning to organize my socks before discarding of the clothes category is 100% completed, but rules are made to be broken.

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Nutty Fruity Scones 2.0

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Saturday morning has been a peaceful couple’s time for Peter and me.  The girls are now at an age that they like to stay up late and and sleep until noon or for Angela afternoon on weekends.  Peter loves this scone recipe and I have made it many times for him as energy bars, snacks, and breakfast.  They are easy and quick to make and packed with nuts and fruits, so the combinations are as varied as there are nuts and fruits.

We sit here, sipping tea, reading the paper and talking about whatever that comes to mind.  Mostly we talk about the children.  I savor and cherish these simple moments.  Ever since the children were born, I feel more acutely the transient nature of all things.  Angela will be away in college in a year and half.  There is nothing we can do to stop time from fleeting; we can only stay present and pay attention to the immediacy and fullness of life.

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Nutty Fruity Scone 2.0

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup walnuts

1/3 cup pistachio nuts

1 large egg

2 tablespoons honey

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt and soda.

Stir in dried fruit and nuts.

In a small bowl, combine egg and honey.

Stir wet ingredients into dry.

Use your hands to form dough.

Shape into desired shape.

(I used a little coconut flour to prevent sticking when I handled the dough.)

Bake at 350° on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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I caught Audrey listening to Taylor Swift while practicing piano a couple of times.  I also caught her practicing with one hand while snacking with the other a couple of times.  Finally I decided that her playing piano was a futile effort for everyone involved.  Peter and I sat her down a couple of weeks ago and told her that we were letting her off the hook, that it was okay with us if she didn’t play the piano any more.  Unexpectedly, she said she didn’t want to stop.  She insisted on continuing to take lessons.  We told her that it would be her choice to either practice much more conscientiously or to stop entirely.  We told her to think it overnight and let us know her decision the next day.  The next day Audrey solemnly declared that she would practice everyday and with focus, that she wanted to continue piano. 

It’s been about two weeks since her own decision to continue playing the piano and I am hearing a marked improvement in her playing.  Life is full of surprises.

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Coat the spiralized or sliced yam with coconut oil and shaved coconut in a baking pan.  Spread a thin layer of yam in the baking dish. You may need two baking pans for this.  The fries will not be crispy if the layer is too thick.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then flip over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. 

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Lemon Dill Baked Cod

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It’s approaching midnight and I’m still trying to finish reading the scripts that I received from China.  The film market is booming in China and there are many opportunities for me to direct my next film, but I’m yet to find a story that’s exciting to me as well as suitable to the censorship standard.  I will keep looking.  And in the meantime, I will cook.

Who am I?  If we are what we do everyday, which I think is the closest answer to this impossible question, then I am a cook.  At least for now.  As I busied myself in the kitchen with my pink batik apron, I actually thought, “I should buy myself a pretty apron.”  I used to think about buying sexy and glamorous dresses.  The ever evolving I.

Dill & Lemon Baked Rock Cod

Ingredients:

3  large cod fillets

1 lemon

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon dill

1/2 sleeve of Ritz Cracker, crushed

3 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation:

Marinate the cod in the white wine in a large ziplock bag or a plate for 30 minutes.  Pat dry.

Coat the fish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 of the dill.

Crush the crackers and mix in the 2 tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining dill with fingers.

Preheat oven at 400F.

Bake the fish in a baking dish for 8 minutes and take the dish out of the oven, but leave the oven on.  Carefully discard the juice from the fish.  Squeeze half of the lemon juice on the fish and sprinkle the cracker mixture on top.

Return to oven and back for another 12 minutes.

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

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A friend came over for lunch today and we commiserated with each other on motherhood.  She has just gone through the grueling college application process with her twin boys and I’m about to take Angela on a college tour next month. I don’t know when it all began, but it seems that the college admissions process has turned into a war that requires endless amounts of strategy. 

I was told that in some cultures in the ancient times, children would be chased out of the house into the wilderness at a certain age, and they were not supposed to come home again until after they’d hunted a tiger.  The rite of passage for today’s kids is not any less difficult, except the “tigers” they are sent out to hunt are those ever elusive brand-name colleges.

Much like the ancient times, there is not much mothers can do to help their children hunt the “tigers.”  All we can do is love them.  As we ate this delicious salad, our conversation quickly turned from the stress of college application to the joy of food  — the balm that cures almost anything.

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Roast Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad

Ingredients for the sweet hot mustard:

1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. coarse ground Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar or honey

1/4 tsp. Sriracha sauce

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Ingredients for the salad:

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 lb. (500 g) brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

1 cup (125 g) black walnuts, toasted

1 1/2 red apples, such as Fuji or Gala, cored and thinly sliced

1 Tbs. honey lemon peel (optional & see note)

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Preparation for the Sweet Mustard:

In a bowl, whisk both mustards, vinegar, brown sugar and Sriracha sauce. Reserve 3 Tbs. mustard for the salad; refrigerate the rest for up to 4 weeks.

Preparation for the Salad:

Preheat oven to 450F.  Wash, trim and cut the brussels sprouts.  Coat sprouts with 2 Tbs. olive oil in a roasting pan.  Roast for 15 to 17 minutes or until tender.  Take out and set aside.

In a large nonstick fry pan, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high. Sauté the shallots until slightly browned. 

Toss together brussels sprouts, sliced apples, walnuts, shallots with 3 Tbs. sweet mustard.  Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter and serve.

I squeezed some fresh lemon juice on the sliced apples to prevent them from turning yellow.

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Note:

Sometime ago, Audrey made lemonade with about 10 lemons.  The lemon peels looked so fresh and smelled so fragrant that I saved them.  I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and let marinate in the fridge over night.  The next day I boiled about 4 cups of water.  When the water was boiling, I squeezed dry the peels, discard the pulp still left in them, cut them into slices and then added the peels to the pot and brought it to boil again.  Then I drained the peels and transfer them into a glass jar, soaked in honey.  They turned out delicious.

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Recipe inspired by:

Williams-Sonoma

Chocolate Banana Souffles

I have been in and out of airports quite a lot in the past two weeks and all the flying was getting on my nerves.  It is pathetic how I’m on the top level of airlines’ frequent flyer programs year after year.  This is the one area of my life I wish could be different.  I’m adventurous only in a spiritual sense — meaning in my thinking and imagination.  My physical self is unbelievably timid and just wants to be home.  When Angela was a toddler, I took her to Shanghai to see my parents and my childhood friends.  They asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and Angela said she’d like to be a tree on Filbert St.  That homebound gene came from me.

Today, I heard that the 2nd season of Marco Polo will again shoot in three remote countries.  In the 1st season, I only had to be in one of them, but in the new season I will most likely be in all three countries.  I was stressed out just thinking about all the flying I will have to do, and the long months away from my family. 

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I had to bake some yummy treats after I heard the news.  The kitchen is my refuge, my shrink. Before I came to the US, I had never heard of shrinks.  The first time I learned of Freud’s Couch I couldn’t understand how anyone would feel better after letting their time, money, and precious life experiences spill out like vomit.

I’ve saved a lot money and breath cooking in the kitchen instead of lying on the couch.  I free associate better with a mixer in hand.

These Soufflés are light and fluffy and they were made mostly of egg whites, which is great if you are on a reduced carb, or gluten free diet.  This was the first time I ever made soufflés and I was curious how they would turn out.  I was staring at the oven almost the entire time watching them rise.  My excitement grew as the soufflés rose higher and higher in the oven, but the minute I took them out they started to deflate.  It was a good thing the kids were already home when they came out of the oven.  They should be eaten within 15 minutes before they lose the fluffiness.

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Chocolate Banana Soufflés Ingredients:

2 ripe medium bananas, mashed

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large egg whites

3 tbsp sugar (I used 2 tbsp of xylitol and it was sweet enough)

cooking spray

Preparation:

Preheat over to 400F. Coat 4, 6 oz ramekins with butter flavored cooking spray. Place on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, mash bananas and vanilla together. Sift cornstarch and cocoa powder over bananas and stir well.

In another medium bowl, beat egg whites with sugar until they form soft peaks. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into banana mixture. When incorporated, fold in the rest of the egg whites. Spoon mixture into ramekins.

Wipe the top 1/4 inch “collar” of the ramekin to remove any excess batter so that the souffle will rise straight and place ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Gina’s Weight Watcher Recipes

Vegan Blueberry Muffin Bread

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One simply feels blessed coming back from anywhere to California in wintertime.

I have been traveling between China and the US many times a year for more then 30 years and I still suffer from jet lag.  Before the children were born, I would get up in the middle of the night and begin moving heavy furniture around the house.  I would put towels under the legs of the furniture and move almost anything by myself.  When Peter woke up in the morning, he’d be surprised to see how the rooms had changed.

Nowadays, when I’m jet lagged I just get up and cook.  Peter got called to the hospital at around 3 AM this morning and when he walked downstairs to the kitchen, I already finished baking the vegan blueberry bread.  The warm toasty aroma brought a smile to his tired face. 

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As I sit here in the afternoon sun writing the blog, I hear peals of laughter from Angela who is reading George Saunders’ story “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”  I make a mental note to read the story and see if it will appear to be funny to me as well.  I usually don’t understand the newspaper comics that the girls love.  And they don’t think I have any sense of humor.  They also get exasperated when I laugh at inappropriate times when others don’t see anything funny.  I suppose humor is the hardest thing to translate.  The girls, though, believe simply that my brain doesn’t function so well anymore.

I sometime wonder if they will ever understand the cultural gulf that I have managed to cross to be who I am.

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Vegan Blueberry Bread Ingredients:

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour (250g)

1/2 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional

1/2 cup xylitol or sugar of choice (100g)

1 cup almond milk or milk of choice (240g)

1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar (15g)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (30g)

1 1/2 cups blueberries (200g)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and grease a 9×5 loaf pan. In a large measuring bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate measuring bowl, whisk together all liquid ingredients except the blueberries.

Pour wet into dry, stir until just evenly combined, then add the blueberries and VERY gently stir them in only until evenly mixed. Do not over-stir, as this would break the blueberries and you’d end up with purple bread.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 45 minutes on the middle rack. Do not open the door, but turn off the oven and let the bread sit inside the oven for another 30 minutes. Makes 10 big, fat slices.

This recipe has been adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Gluten-Free Cauliflower Tots

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Peter is patiently working with Audrey on the Merriam-Webster Spell-It — the list of words that might appear on the school spelling bee.  Audrey is one of the top two spellers in her grade and will represent her class at the podium next Tuesday. Angela is trying to help too, albeit less patiently, and humble-bragging about all the times she won the school bee. As I listen to their practice I realize that my place is firmly in the kitchen — I have never even heard of at least 50% of the words they are going through.

These aromatic cauliflower tots make perfect after school snack, especially for kids who are vegetarians like mine.  They are delicious and packed with nutrition.  One reader commented on my spaghetti squash tots that they made perfect snacks for Sunday’s Golden Globe show gathering.  I think these cauliflower tots are also perfect appetizer for such gatherings. 

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Yellow Cauliflower Tots Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups cooked yellow cauliflower florets, finely chopped *see note

1 large egg

2 large egg whites

1/2 cup onion, minced

3 tbsp minced fresh chives

1/4 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup oat bran

1/4 cup coconut flour

(You can use 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs instead of oat bran and coconut four)

A dash of garlic & herb seasoning

A dash of ground cumin and turmeric

salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

*to cook the cauliflower florets, steam a little over 2 cups raw cauliflower florets in a little water covered for for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender but not mushy, then drain well and dry on paper towel, then using a knife finely chop and set 2 cups aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line a baking dish with parchment paper

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture in your hands and roll into small ovals. Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, turning halfway through cooking until golden.

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 I adapted my recipe from http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/11/cauliflower-tots.html

For another cauliflower recipe, check out Roasted Cauliflower.

Spaghetti Squash Tots

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Spaghetti squash is one of our favorite vegetables.  We’ve made salads, cakes and lasagna with it in the past.  Today I improvised simple spaghetti squash tots with what I have in the fridge and pantry, and the girls finished all three trays of them.  I enjoy it very much when I do something by feel.  It’s more fun to line up the spice bottles and just shake my wrist instead of measuring everything precisely.  A dash of this.  A dash of that.  I felt like a witch concocting some wicked delicious magic.  

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You can eat the tots by themselves or with a little dollop of pesto sauce.

Spaghetti Squash Tots Ingredients:

1 small spaghetti squash

1/2 cup shredded fat free Cheddar cheese (packed, 2 oz)

1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (packed, 1 oz)

1/4 cup oat bran

1 egg + 3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 shallot (thinly sliced)

1/4 teaspoon Garlic & Herb Seasoning

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon paprika

A dash of cayenne pepper

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut the squash lengthwise in half.  Scoop out and discard seeds.  Microwave each half with 2 tablespoon of water in a container for 8 minutes.  Scoop out the flesh and let cool.

Mix in all the ingredients well.  Spoon the mixture on the baking dish lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 35 minutes or until golden.

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A note about spaghetti squash: try it! It’s super easy to make since you can just cook it in the microwave. Also, you can eat it just like pasta but it’s got more fiber and less starch! Truly a miracle vegetable.

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This spaghetti squash was from our nanny’s garden.

The Best Flour-less Chocolate Brownies!

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Spring cleaning!  After months of procrastination, I finally cleaned out my study.  It was tedious work, but I reveled in the feeling of being neat and organized.  Why didn’t I do this sooner?  I had looked at the mess now and then and thought about cleaning it, but every time  I just closed the door and walked away.  All I could say was that I was not born with the neat gene.  Whenever I visit my parents, I would lose all hope of ever get organized.  My parents’ rooms were always strewn with gift bags, newspapers and other knickknacks.  My mother, whom I most resemble, has a desk with layers of books, newspaper clippings, bottles of pills and what-have-you. 

So, it was no small feat that everything was filed into its rightful place.  And the recycling bin was full.  High time to bake some brownies for afternoon tea.  These flour-less brownies are unbelievably moist and delicious without any added fat.  They felt decadent and sinful to eat, but they are actually healthy and nutritious.  In all of my efforts in grain-free baking, this is the best recipe.  A definite keeper!

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This recipe is from Skinnytaste.com.  I added 1/2 cup of walnuts to the original.

PB2 Flourless Chocolate Brownies Ingredients:

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 cup PB2 (see photo and note)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp water

1/2 cup raw honey

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup semi sweet dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup walnuts

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a nonstick 9 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Beat the egg and egg white in a small bowl with a whisk.

In a large bowl combine the PB2, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and mix well with a spatula. Add the egg and egg whites and stir. Add water, honey, vanilla and stir with a spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then cut into 12 bars cutting 3 rows x 4 rows.

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Note on PB2:

PB2 is a reduced fat peanut powder that you can order from Amazon.com.  It is an ideal product to have if you like peanut or peanut butter but don’t want to ingest too much fat.

http://www.amazon.com/Plantation-PB2-Powdered-Peanut-Butter/dp/B00H8YGOMO/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1420601470&sr=1-1&keywords=pb2

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