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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Cabbage Nectarine Salad

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My nectarines were of the perfect ripeness today — succulent but not too soft. I used them to make this simple cabbage salad and it turned out absolutely delicious — sweet and tangy with a hint of mint — a summery transformation of a cool weather vegetable. I used a sweet mulberry vinegar, but I imagine cider or white vinegar will work perfectly with it too.

Cabbages are one of the most nutritious vegetables, but few ever talk about them. They just seem so common place and boring. However, the seeming blandness is why I love them — they are versatile. I have often stir fried them or used them in Chinese pork vegetable dumplings. I have also pickled them or made salads with them.

As you can see here — cabbages are beautiful.

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Cabbage Nectarine Salad

Ingredients:

1 small head of cabbage, outer leaves removed and shredded (about 6 cups)

2 to 3 nectarines, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 to 3 cups)

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Dressing:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mulberry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Gently toss together sliced cabbage, sliced nectarine, mint leaves with the dressing. Let sit for 10 minutes for the juice from the nectarine to release into the salad. Add walnut before serving.

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Fresh Corn Salad

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I woke up with a pang of sudden realization that the last day of August was upon us. To live summer to its fullest potential I loaded the grocery cart with lots of seasonal produce: berries, nectarines, peaches, figs, fresh corn and watermelon. I am going to hold on to my favorite season a little longer by enjoying an abundance of summery food. 

Fresh corn is one of Peter’s favorite foods. Though he never tires of eating the simple corn on the cob, I decided to give hime some variety today by making this simple and refreshing corn salad. It went deliciously with the grilled chicken.

This is a summer must eat dish.

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Fresh Corn Salad

Ingredients:

4 ears fresh corn

2 tablespoons minced shallot or red onion

1 tablespoon minced red and greenn jalapeño (seeded)

2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro

2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced tomato (seeded)

Juice from 1 large lime (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Scant 1/4 cup roasted pine nuts (optional)

Salt to taste

Preparation:

Cook the corn. I microwaved them one by one with a layer of husk on, each for 3 minutes. Using a bread knife, cut the kernel off the corn.

Mix the minced red onion or shallot, jalapeño, lime juice, olive oil and salt in a bowl and let sit for a minute or two for the onion to lose the sharp sting.

Mix the rest of the ingredients except for the pine nuts.

Taste it to adjust the flavors.

Add pine nuts before serving.

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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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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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

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

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

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

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

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

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

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

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Rhubarb & Strawberries with Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream

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Rhubarb is in season — plump, crimson and shiny like jewels. I bought two pounds of these ruby stocks today and decided to try them in two different flavors. One with grapefruit juice, which turned out to be best chilled, and other other with a bit cinnamon and brandy that is better served warm. They are both quite delicious by themselves, but absolutely divine with my home made healthy vanilla ice cream.

Most people might associate Rhubarb with British desserts, but the Chinese have actually used the rhubarb roots as medicine for over two thousand years. Rhubarb traveled along the Silk Road to Europe in the 1400s, and then from England to America with the early settlers.

Why did my ancestors only use the roots for medicine and not the delicious stocks for dessert? As a matter of fact, my contemporaries in China don’t eat rhubarb either.  2700 years after it’s first recorded use as medicine in China, I think it’s high time for rhubarb to travel back to China as a dessert!  I am taking Audrey to see my parents in Shanghai this summer and will bring rhubarb seeds with us.  Apparently the rhubarb roots that are used for medicine in China is of a different variety from the one that we use in America to make desserts.

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Rhubarb & Strawberries in Grapefruit Juice

Ingredients:

5 cups rhubarb, sliced into 2 to 3 inch long strips

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup or more red ruby grapefruit juice

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

Zest from 1/2 lemon

Mint leaves for garnish

Preparation:

Place rhubarb, juice, xylitol or sugar, 1/2 of the zest in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks.  It may appear to have not enough liquid in the beginning, but as the rhubarb softens, it should be completely submerged in the liquid.  Add a little more grapefruit juice if there is not enough liquid.

Make sure that you don’t cook the rhubarb for too long or it will become too mushy. 

Turn off the stove and let it cool for a minute before folding in the strawberries. Serve cold or chilled.

Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup fat-free Fage or other Greek Yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% milk, or milk of choice

4 1/2 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Preparation:

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. I used Vitamix. Pour into the ice cream maker and let churn for 25 to 30 minutes.

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Alternative:

Rhubarb & Strawberries with Brandy

Ingredients:

5 cups rhubarb, cut into desired shape

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup water

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup brandy

Preparation:

Place rhubarb, water, xylitol or sugar, vanilla, cinnamon in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks. Pour the brandy in and stir for 30 seconds.  Turn off stove and add strawberries. Mix and let cool.  Serve warm or cold.

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.

Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Yummy Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Broccolini

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

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

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

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

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

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Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Garlic Broccolini

Ingredients:

1.4 pound large prawns, shelled and deveined

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 tablespoon ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon packed minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced or graded ginger

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Ingredients for Broccolini:

2 bunches broccolini

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste.

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Preparation for Broccolini:

Remove rough parts of broccolini.

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

Preparation for Prawns:

Peel and devein the prawns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

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Dessert before dinner is not a problem in this case.

These are absolutely the most delicious little treats made with the simplest and healthiest of ingredients.  When I was in Shanghai earlier this month, I made them for my parents, and they couldn’t believe that the decadent panna cotta was actually good for them.  Whenever I visit my parents, I pack food in my suitcases —  cheeses, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain cereal, decaf coffee beans… you name it.  My suitcases remind me of the ones hauled by the black market merchants during the era of food rationing in China. This time I brought them a bag of xylitol along with other novelty foods.  My dad has a voracious appetite and he loves sweets, but he needs to watch his blood sugar.  So xylitol was a perfect gift for him, and the panna cotta was a perfect dessert to showcase it. 

Looking at my dad chomping on peanuts in front of the TV, I knew I was doomed. It is amazing how one can inherit a penchant for peanuts from one’s father. There is definitely a peanut loving gene  in my DNA.  My dad is hard of hearing and talking with him is laborious for the both of us; so we shelled peanuts together while watching some Sino-Japanese war series on TV. It seemed that my parents are always watching the same battles being fought every time I visit them.  The Japanese invasion and the Chinese resistance must be one of the few themes that can pass censorship while still showing some scenes of sex and violence. I was able to make them happy simply by sitting with them. Nothing else was required — just my presence. I think only children have this kind of magical power over their parents.

Okay, back to the panna cotta. It is low fat, but feels extremely creamy in your mouth.  I made mine sugar free with xylitol and stevia extract.  Stevia extract is natural and has virtually no calories. I usually add a pack or two with about 1/4 cup of xylitol. If you don’t like xylitol or stevia, you can use 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar depending on how sweet you want your panna cotta.  

Everyone in the family loved the panna cotta not only because it is delectable and healthy, but also because home-made dessert means mommy is back.

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I found reusable yogurt bottles with lids to be perfect for the panna cotta. You can easily store them in the fridge for a few days.

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Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

2 1/2 cups Fage Total or other full fat Greek yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% organic milk or milk of choice or cream (I used 2% organic)

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 to 2 packs of organic stevia or 1 to 2 more tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 1/4 ounce packet) unflavored gelatin

Canola or safflower for greasing the containers

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Preparation:

Grease the containers (ramekins or teacups or bowls) if you plan to un-mold the panna cotta when serving.  If you plan to serve the panna cotta in the container that you make it with, you can skip the greasing.

Pour 1 cup of milk in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin in the milk, let soak until soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small sauce pan on low heat, stir the xylitol or sugar, milk and gelatin until melt. (Do not boil.) Let cool for 3 to 5 minutes.

In a food processor, mix together milk gelatin mixture, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, xanthan gum and stevia.

Pour mixture into desired container and refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours depending on the size of the container, about 2 hours for small ramekins or cups and up to 8 hours or overnight for a cake pan.

To take the panna cotta out of the container, dip the bottom of the container in a pan of hot water for 5 seconds, or use a sharp knife to separate along the side of the container. Cover the container with the plate you plan to serve on and turn the whole thing upside down.

Serve with fresh berries and a dollop honey or maple syrup

Or

Top with brandied dried apricots

I made the brandied apricots the same way I made the brandied dried figs and the brandied dried cherry.

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