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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Lemon Almond Souffle & Vegetarian Taco by Audrey

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Audrey cooked dinner for us tonight.  She opened a package of wheat protein called Seitan and made delicious vegetarian tacos.  A dash of this and a dash of that.  She claimed that it was a secret recipe, but I think she was just improvising as she went.  She enjoys the kitchen almost as much as I do.  She is fast — turning out a meal in a matter of minutes, leaving behind a mess as if the hurricane has swept through the kitchen.  She looked so cute and sweet in her apron that I couldn’t get mad at her.

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In April, Audrey and I filmed at this lovely little cafe theater in Las Vegas called Inspire Theater.  On the magazine rack I saw a stack of Vegetarian Times Special with “5-Ingredient Recipes” on the cover and I immediately swiped one copy.  This 5-ingredient soufflé recipe is grain free, dairy free, paleo-friendly and deceptively easy to make.  It is melt-in-your-mouth light and airy.  Most importantly, it is absolutely delicious!

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Lemon-Almond Souffles

Ingredients:

2 teaspoon coconut oil

4 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoon honey, softened or Joseph’s sugar free maple syrup

3 tablespoon fresh organic Meyer lemon juice + zest from 1 lemon

3 tablespoon almond meal

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 6 4oz. ovenproof ramekins with coconut oil up to the rims.  Chill ramekins in refrigerator.

Whisk together 3 egg yolks, honey, lemon juice, lemon zest and almond meal in medium bowl. (Discard or use the extra yolk another time.)

Beat 4 egg whites with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Fold meringue into egg yol mixture with spatula.

Fill Ramekins two-thirds full, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. (I baked it for 12 minutes.) Serve immediately. 

We made the first batch with honey and a second batch with Joseph’s sugar-free maple syrup.  Both came out great.

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Scones & Chili

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Breakfast Scones

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Turkey Chili

There is a good reason why Peter usually does the dishes.  I just cut my finger quite badly washing the knife given to me by renowned chef and cookbook author Martin Yan.  And I’m typing in pain.  With my finger wrapped in bandages, I can now truly attest to the sharpness of his knife.

What I made today were variations of the recipes that I had posted on the blog before.

For breakfast, I made the gluten-free, dairy-free scones from my earlier recipe.  I switched the dried fruit and the nuts.  You can make endless variations on the combination of dried fruits and nuts with this scone recipe.

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For dinner, I cooked turkey Chili.  I used a can of organic diced tomato instead of fresh tomatoes and the marinara sauce and I used the whole can of kidney beans instead of 1/2 can.  I also added 1/2 a red bell pepper.  It was as delicious as I remembered it to be.

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Very Cherry Snack Cake

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Angela finished a really stressful week, during which she took 3 AP tests.  Before that she had taken 3 SAT subject tests on Saturday.   With all the important standardized tests behind her, a little celebration is called for, and what’s a celebration without a cake?  So here it is.  Simple, delicious and very healthy.  Cherries are in season and they are one of our family’s favorite fruits.  I bought two boxes today, but they are so perfect that I couldn’t bear to alter them in anyway.  So I made the cake using frozen organic cherries instead and it turned out beautifully. 

Since the cake is packed with protein, it is a perfect dessert for Audrey, a vegetarian girl who is also a picky eater.  The left-over will be great for breakfast.

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Very Cherry Snack Cake (Gluten-free, No added sugar, Low-fat, Nutrient-rich)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup almond flour

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoon oat bran

6 tablespoon 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 pitted cherries (I used frozen organic dark tart cherries)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

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Preparation:

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 cherries 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. 

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Sugar-Free, Grain-Free Chocolate Almond Cookies!

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School was out and it was pouring outside.  What would be a better time than this to bake cookies?  Angela and I decided to adapt our recipe from skinnytaste’s  Easy 5-Ingredient Nutella Almond Butter Cookies. 

We took the liberty of making ours a little healthier than the original.  And they were quite delicious, especially when they were still a little warm and soft. Since they were grain free, sugar free cookies, we packed a few to send to Peter’s mother, who is diabetic.  

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As the girls and I relaxed by the fireplace eating our warm cookies with milk, I thought to myself if this isn’t nice, what is? 

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There is a book called If This Isn’t Nice, What is, which collected nine graduation speeches that Kurt Vonnegut delivered in nine different colleges between 1978 and 2004.  One paragraph from which the book borrowed its title reads like this, “One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’  So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”

Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Cookies Ingredients:

1 cup organic crunchy almond butter

1/2 cup xylitol (see note below)

1/4 cup 100% unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup almond flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre heat oven at 350F and bake the cookes for 8-10 minutes on a baking dish lined with parchment paper.  This recipe makes 16 to 18 cookies.

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In case you’re wondering, xylitol is a sweetener that is naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t raise blood sugar since it’s a sugar alcohol. Also, it’s good for your teeth and recommended by many dentists! Unlike aspartame, saccharine, or sucralose, xylitol has not been shown to increase risk for obesity, diabetes, or other metabolic disorders. We usually use Xyla brand xylitol since it’s made from hardwood instead of GMO corn. If you don’t have xylitol or don’t want to use it, you can use an equivalent amount of some other sweetener. We definitely recommend xylitol, though, since it tastes and feels just like sugar but is not unhealthy.

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Very Nutty Apple Crisp & A Smile

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On our recent after dinner strolls, Audrey has been asking to walk to the same spot to see a homeless old man.  She gives him some of her spending money and whatever coins she could find around the house.  Peter has the habit of leaving coins on his nightstand because he doesn’t want them in his pockets.  Nowadays, Audrey cleans up Peter’s nightstand everyday.

Last night Audrey was wearing a jacket that had a broken pocket, so she hid the coins in one of her boots as we went out in the light drizzle for our usual walk.  When she found the old homeless man, she leaned against the wall next to him and took off her boot to get the money for him.  What made the old man truly happy was not only the money that Audrey gave him, but that she smiled and chatted with with him as she took off her boot.  As short as the moment was, it was a shared humanity that enriched them both.

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Big dimpled smiles through out the years

In his book Letter to a Hostage, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry recounted how a smile saved his life when he was a journalist covering the Civil War in Spain.  He concluded the book with a reflection on the universality and life-giving force of that one simple gesture, the human smile: “Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed. We communicate in a smile beyond languages, classes, and parties. We are faithful members of the same church, you with your customs, I with mine.”

I am very proud that she has turned out to be a kind and compassionate person.  And she always has a warm and sincere smile for everyone.

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I adapted the Very Nutty Apple Crisp recipe from:

http://www.chow.com/recipes/11416-apple-crisp-with-oatmeal-streusel

I replaced all sugars with xylitol and flour with almond flour.  I replaced the butter with coconut oil and cut the added fat by half.  I also added walnuts and pecan and shaved coconut to make the streusel extra crispy and aromatic.  Though I didn’t take the best pictures today, the apple crisp was truly delicious.  I consider this a keeper.

Very Healthy and Very Nutty Apple Crisp Ingredients:

6 Granny Smith apples (peeled and cored)

2 to 3 tablespoons Xylitol or sugar (for the apples)

1/2 cup xylitol or brown sugar (for the crisp)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup almond flour (original recipe uses flour)

1/3 cup walnuts (chopped)

1/3 cup pecans (chopped)

1/3 cup shaved coconut (unsweetened)

2 tablespoon coconut oil (original recipe uses 4 tablespoon butter)

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter. 

Combine the apples, xylitol or sugar, cinnamon, and half of the salt in a large bowl and toss to coat. Place the apple mixture in the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Using the same bowl as for mixing the apples, mix together the xylitol or brown sugar, oats, almond flour, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt until evenly combined. With your fingertips, blend in the coconut oil until small clumps form and the oil is well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples and bake until the streusel is crispy and the apples are tender, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Kitchen Therapy

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I flew to LA today, but before I left I made breakfast for my family.  For someone who has to fly so often I am actually very afraid of plane rides, and I am always sleepless the night before departure.  It’s amazing how the act of cooking restored in me a sense of well being after an insomniac night.  I had made gluten free muffins before, and sometimes as a comfort to myself, but today was the first time I was able to make the almond flour pineapple muffins without referring to any recipes.  I just went with whatever I felt like and they turned out quite delicious.  For my two growing vegetarian daughters, these muffins pack a lot of protein.

While that muffins were baking, I read the Wall Street Journal and there was an article called Kitchen Therapy: Cooking Classes Help Mentally Ill Teens.  It began with “Many cooks know what a sanctuary the kitchen can be.”  My feelings exactly.  Cooking must do something to to change your hormones like hugging and kissing do.  Well, it does mine, I think.  I can see Angela cringe right now. (Ewww, can you not? – AH)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup almond flour

3/4 cup oat bran

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup ripe juicy pineapple (diced)

1 large banana

Preheat oven at 350F

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick no longer sticks.

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Baked Oatmeal and Nabokov

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My husband Peter is a creature of habit and he likes his oatmeal for breakfast everyday.  Occasionally on weekends I will make omelet or French toasts, but by far oatmeal is his favorite.  So I decided to make him a Sunday morning treat before his golf game — baked oatmeal.  He said that I made him a happy man when he left the house, so I guess the baked oatmeal was a success.

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This recipe of Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas is adapted from Skinnytaste.  I made mine with 1 1/2 of the recipe because my baking dish is bigger.  And I omitted the honey because my oatmeal was already sweetened with monk fruit and there were dried mango bits in it.

Ingredients:

2 medium ripe bananas, (the riper the better) sliced into 1/2″ pieces

1 1/2 cup blueberries

1/4 cup honey (or agave)

1 cup uncooked quick oats

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 cup fat free milk (or any milk you desire)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Lightly spray a 8 x 8″ or 9 x 9″ ceramic baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Arrange the banana slices in a single layer on the bottom of the ceramic dish. Sprinkle half of the blueberries over the bananas, 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon, 1 tbsp of the honey and cover with foil. Bake 15 minutes, until the bananas get soft.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the oats, half of nuts, baking powder, remaining cinnamon, and salt; stir together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining honey, milk, egg, and vanilla extract.

Remove the bananas from the oven, then pour the oat mixture over the bananas and blueberries.

Pour the milk mixture over the oats, making sure to distribute the mixture as evenly as possible over the oats.  Sprinkle the remaining blueberries and walnuts over the the top.

Bake the oatmeal for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the oatmeal has set. Serve warm from the oven.

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When the oatmeal was baking, I found out that by Nabokov’s definition I am not only a good reader, a major reader, but also an active and creative reader. 

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In his collected Lectures on Literature he says:

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting. However, let us not confuse the physical eye, that monstrous masterpiece of evolution, with the mind, an even more monstrous achievement. A book, no matter what it is—a work of fiction or a work of science (the boundary line between the two is not as clear as is generally believed)—a book of fiction appeals first of all to the mind. The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book.”

I had never consciously realized why I would re-read some books many times.  For a certain period of my life I would carry a particular book with me wherever I traveled.  I remember re-reading again and again the books by Milan Kundera in my youth, especially The Joke.  In my 30s I re-read most frequently Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Somerset Maugham’s books, particularly Moon and Sixpence.  In the past few years, I have been carrying around Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead everywhere like a talisman.  And during my recent trips, I have been re-reading Steinbeck: A life in Letter.  And The Great Gatsby, perhaps once every year.  I was affirmed today that re-reading is the only way to read a worthy book.